Washington State Fair to debut with altered landscape

A fire that razed one of the Washington State Fair’s oldest buildings has altered the landscape at the fairgrounds, but it won’t disrupt the opening of the annual fall fair on Friday (Sept. 5).

A midnight blaze several hours after the Spring Fair closed in April claimed Evergreen Hall, a 27,505-square-foot building that was considered an important piece of last year’s rebranding effort at the fair. The fire caused $3.5 million in damage, and a replacement likely won’t be built for more than a year.

It also displaced the original Sales Family Food Stand, which had stood in the same spot for more than 90 years.

But fair organizers are betting on a strong showing over the next 17 days with the return of warm summer weather in the weekend forecast and the return of Pierce Transit bus service this year for the first time since 2010.

The fair gates open at 10 a.m., following the usual opening-day hoopla.

Temporary tents this year will hold grange displays and other agricultural exhibits, as well as surrounding food vendors. Before burning down, Evergreen Hall had endured since the 1920s under a variety of names, most recently the Crafts and More building.

Inside the big tent, Jenny Vincent of Maple Valley was helping create an agriculture display for the East Hill Kent Grange on Wednesday.

“It's tighter quarters; we lost about two feet of display space,” Vincent said. “But we’re all stuck in the same boat. It takes a little bit of insanity to do this.”

Fair spokeswoman Karen LaFlamme said Evergreen Hall will be replaced, but very few plans have been made.

“We’re still working with the insurance,” she said. “It takes forever for something like this.”

A new structure likely won’t be finished until at least 2016, she added, given the lengthy design and permitting processes. She said it’s unknown if it will be erected in the same location or if it will be moved.

Cost estimates won’t be available for some time, either.

“There are more unknowns than knowns,” LaFlamme said. “We know that a structure will go up, but that’s about it.”

The nearby Sales Family Food Stand, where the fire started, also has an uncertain future.

Mike Christensen, who is part of five generations of Sales family members who’ve grown up at the fairgrounds, was helping a crew of family and friends prepare a temporary tent in the food stand’s traditional location Wednesday.

“It was a tragedy to lose the first stand,” Christensen said. “We've been digging as deep as we can to get through this thing. It was horrific.”

He said the Sales family has been in the same spot since 1923, and although the future of the stand itself is uncertain, the mission remains the same.

“I have no doubt what the future holds,” Christensen said. “It's a continuation of what we've always done. We're going to sell food.”

Finding Sales family fair food at multiple locations is one of many traditions fairgoers can count on during the Washington State Fair.

Following the rodeo breakfast at the Pioneer Park Pavilion, the cattle drive will make its way through downtown Puyallup to kick off the opening day parade.

Fair admission is free on opening day from 10 a.m. to noon with a recommended non-perishable donation to the Puyallup Food Bank’s annual food drive. LaFlamme said the fair hopes to beat last year’s mark of more than 212,000 pounds of food.

Unlike last year, first-day fairgoers will stay dry and warm with temperatures in the 80s, according to the National Weather Service. The sun and heat are expected to stick around through the first weekend.

For those who want to avoid traffic and parking, Pierce Transit has brought back its express bus routes, and Sound Transit will offer weekend commuter rail trips between Everett and Sumner.

Pierce Transit shuttles will transport people daily from the South Hill Mall, Lakewood Towne Center and Tacoma Community College, while the Sounder will run Sept. 13 and Sept. 20.

LaFlamme said families shouldn’t pass up the long list of free events and displays, including those at the temporary tent near the Evergreen Hall site.

The old barn building was renovated and renamed Evergreen Hall last year as part of the event’s larger rebranding from the Puyallup Fair to the Washington State Fair. Many agricultural exhibits that had been scattered throughout the fairgrounds were brought together into a more comprehensive collection at the site.

Karen Jackson of Sumner, who was helping with the Lewis County Pomona Grange on Wednesday, said watching everyone work together gave her a more positive vibe in the fire's aftermath.

“You put a lot of sweat and tears into this and you have a lot of emotional attachment to the building because of the work,” she said. “You wondered what was going to happen.”

Staff photographer Drew Perine contributed to this report.

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