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December 2, 2009 > History: "Meet me where the blossoms bloom"

History: "Meet me where the blossoms bloom"

In March 1913, citizens of Hayward staged an elaborate event called the Blossom Festival. Organizers proclaimed it "the greatest attraction ever held in Hayward." (I'm sure they meant up to that point in the city's history). The festival was intended to showcase agricultural wonders of the area in preparation for the coming Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) to open in San Francisco in 1915. The exposition celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and showed the world that San Francisco and the entire Bay Area region had fully recovered from the devastation of the 1906 earthquake.

The entire Bay Area supported the idea of a world's fair. They anticipated a huge influx of money into their communities from visitors coming to the exposition. When San Francisco won the exposition in 1911 (beating several other cities around the country), all communities of the Bay Area, including Hayward, responded gleefully (well, newspaper editors did at any rate). Between 1911 and the opening of the exposition in 1915 organizers of PPIE held one celebration after another: groundbreakings for various buildings, tours of different phases of construction and encouraged local community celebrations like the Blossom Festival as a way to build and maintain interest in the exposition.

In addition to showing Hayward's support of the exposition, Blossom Festival organizers wanted to highlight the beauty and vitality of Hayward. According to an article in the March 18, 1913 issue of the Hayward Journal, "Ten millions of dollars are represented in the fruit industry in this part of the county. Nearly 5,000 acres of orchard land in the vicinity of Hayward, all in full bloom, will be visible to the visitors that come to the fiesta. The pink of the cherry tree will be shaded by the white of the pear tree and the pure petals of the apple and prune tree." The committee, chaired by local farmer and businessman Isaac B. Parsons, raised money to underwrite the cost of the festival from large landowners and corporations including many in Oakland.

The festival kicked off with an auto parade on March 22 with more activities the following weekend. This first event was a "grand auto parade through Oakland and San Francisco...with gaily decorated machines with blossoms [which] will be a most striking feature, and widely advertise the Blossom Festival" to the communities surrounding Hayward. The parade left Hayward in the morning and traveled up Castro (now Mission Boulevard)/East 14th Street to Oakland where they were greeted by a police escort and the Oakland Chamber of Commerce. The escort took the parade to the ferry terminal where they caught a boat to San Francisco (remember the Bay Bridge was not built for another 23 years).

Upon arriving in San Francisco, the parade was officially received by PPIE officials "with heralds and escorted throughout the City and entertained." Cash prizes for the best auto decorations were awarded by judges stationed between the San Francisco Ferry Building and the Exposition grounds in the Marina district. All car owners in Eden Township (what is now Hayward, San Lorenzo, San Leandro and Castro Valley) were eligible to participate. As of March 18, which is the only newspaper we have discussing the festival , only 34 car owners had committed to the parade and committee members were writing to an additional 37 other owners to ask for their participation. The car was still a novelty at this time and there were not that many people in the area who could afford one.

The committee planned to decorate downtown and even brought in a professional decorator from San Francisco. An article in the newspaper said: "E. M. Eisfelder, the official decorator for the Blossom Festival, has arrived with a crew of experienced decorators and as soon as the weather permits will commence decorating the streets, storefronts, buildings and automobiles for Hayward's first grand Blossom Celebration. The streets will be decorated with pink and green flags, hanging baskets of blossoms and greens and the poles with greens and palm leaves representing trees. The store fronts and building will be draped with large American flags, pink and green cloth and blossoms." For weeks prior to the festival, a decoration committee headed by Mrs. Mastick and other prominent local women had been searching through the hills and valleys of Hayward, gathering greenery and flowers to use in the decorations. While we currently have no photos of downtown fully decked out with the completed decorations, from the description it sounds like the town must have looked quite festive!

The main events of the festival occurred on March 29th. Bright and early that morning was a baseball game at the Hayward Athletic Park between Boone's Academy and Hayward High School. Following the game was a "Grand Floral Parade" of decorated cars, floats, and other vehicles. The parade route meandered through the streets of downtown out to First Street (now Foothill Boulevard) and then down First Street to Hayward Union High School (then the brand new high school building at what is now the Safeway Shopping Center on Foothill). At the high school, the march turned around and returned to Hayward Grammar School on the corner of B and First Street.

Prizes were awarded for the best decorations on an auto, best decorated car driven by a lady, and best decorated float drawn by horses, among other awards. At the grammar school remarks were given by all festival dignitaries including Isaac Parsons, Hayward Mayor Charles Heyer, Oakland Chamber of Commerce president A.A. Dennison, mayors from other surrounding communities and officials from the PPIE.

Later that afternoon a Baby Show and Parade gathered at the Carnegie Library (at the corner of B and First Streets) and marched around downtown ending at the Native Sons of the Golden West Hall (at C and Main Streets). The babies (and presumably their parents) won prizes for everything from best decorated baby carriage to cutest and plumpest babies to the finest set of twins, thirteen different categories in all.

Following the baby contest a Centipede Race was held between squads of the National Guard (Hayward had a large National Guard company based out of the Native Sons building). This sounds like some sort of a three-legged or relay race, though no description was included in the Festival program or the newspaper. Probably the most unusual of sporting events was an auto polo contest at Hayward Athletic Park. Festival organizers described it as: "... the new fangled and very exciting auto polo game, played by two men, each in a speedy automobile, who play some kind of golf." It appears that even Festival officials did not quite understand what "auto polo" was! The festival wrapped up with a concert by the Fifth Regiment Band.

While the Blossom Festival was promoted as a "first annual" event, there does not appear to have been another. It could be because participation was not what the festival committee had hoped for though the few photos we have of the event show that there was indeed significant local involvement. More than likely, growing anticipation and activity of the opening of the PPIE, combined with the start of World War I in Europe, and general growth of Hayward itself were deciding factors in not holding another festival. Even so, the Blossom Festival shows Hayward's growing connection to the broader metropolitan Bay Area at the turn of the twentieth century.

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