You may be wondering why I am featuring a photo of Bob Hope for my newest blog installment on Packard history. This photo comes from a group of 13 photos in the PPG Vault collection showing the Packard presence at the 1949 Michigan State Fair. 1949 was the Centennial Celebration year for the State Fair, which was established just 12 years after Michigan achieved statehood. 1949 was also the Golden Anniversary for the Packard Motor Car Company. What better way for Packard to celebrate this milestone year than with the State Fair’s headlining entertainer, Bob Hope.
The 1949 State Fair, which took place September 2-11 at the fairgrounds at 8 Mile and Woodward, featured many special events and celebrities. An advertising poster noted that there were to be parades along the midway, fireworks, a 100-mile auto race on the fairgrounds track, and many contests. One contest prize was a brand new Packard sedan.
Besides Bob Hope, entertainers included singer Jo Stafford, showman Tommy Bartlett, and country music singer Tex Ritter and his rodeo. Also on hand was Elsie the Cow, the marketing mascot for the Borden Dairy Company. At that time, Elsie was as popular with the American public as Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus.
There were many displays showing off Michigan’s agricultural and industrial achievements. The Dairy Cattle Building held livestock shows and auctions. The Agricultural Building showcased a variety of farm goods. Other areas around the site featured a variety of the state’s industrial products and the latest technological innovations. And, of course, there were lots of automobiles.
Because of its own anniversary celebrations, the Packard Motor Car Company was well represented at the 1949 State Fair. Specially painted Golden Anniversary cars were on display. The company even had its own grand gateway entrance to the fairgrounds, as shown in the photo below.
Ultimately the Michigan State Fair fell victim to the changing tides of fortune, much like the Packard Motor Car Company. Economic conditions, the public’s shifting tastes in consumer goods and entertainment, and the decline in agriculture spelled the end of the State Fair. By 2009, attendance was down more than 50% and the enterprise was over $300,000 in debt. The nation was heading into a deep recession and the state could no longer afford to subsidize the fair.
The 142-acre Michigan State Fair site sat idle until it was sold to a private developer in July of this year. Currently, Amazon is planning to build a multi-acre distribution center on the site. Other industrial buildings are also in the planning stages. To make way for this, three architecturally significant buildings on the former fairgrounds, all built in the 1920s and all listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will be torn down.