A glimpse of the 2011 Live Oak Park fair through a display of hula hoops. Photo: Nancy Rubin
A glimpse of the 2011 Live Oak Park fair through a display of hula hoops. Photo: Nancy Rubin

One of Berkeley’s most treasured outdoor celebrations, the Live Oak Park Fair, is leaving the city after 44 years.

Jan Etre, the producer of the fair since 1988, is moving it to the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond and turning it into a benefit for the radio station KPFA. It will still be a fair focused on the arts, but the June fair may be twice as large and will be known as the KPFA Summer Arts Fair.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Etre, who has worked on the fair for 27 years. “It’s been a joyful community garden party every year. We are sorry Live Oak is ending. We are all kind of sad but we see this is as a bigger, better picture.”

Etre had the idea to move the Live Oak Fair after she saw the “runaway success” KPFA had when it moved its winter crafts fair from San Francisco to the Craneway in December. Etre also produces that fair (she is a half-time employee at KPFA) and she and others were surprised by the positive response to the move. Attendance more than doubled to  5,000 paying ticket-holders, she said.

“People said ‘thank God you are back in the East Bay,’” said Etre. “They said, ‘I would never go to San Francisco for a show. The parking was too difficult. I couldn’t bother. This place is amazing.’”

The Craneway Pavilion is located in the Ford Assembly plant built in 1931 on the edge of San Francisco Bay. The building, the largest of its kind on the West Coast, was remodeled by developer Eddie Orton a decade ago. Its event space is large and has commanding views of San Francisco Bay. Parking is free.

The Live Oak Park fair may be the oldest fair in Berkeley’s history, but attendance had dropped off in recent years, said Etre. She attributed that to a number of factors. Berkeley remodeled the park a few years ago to make it ADA compliant, and the changes negatively affected the layout of the fair.

Plus, the space was small with space for only 100 or so vendors, she said. (The Craneway can accommodate 200 vendors).

The second weekend in June, the traditional date of the fair, is a busy time with numerous competing events, Etre said. UC Berkeley always holds some graduation ceremonies that weekend, and the ProArts open studios happen as well. In 2015, the Bay Area Book Festival will launch on June 6 and 7, and Etre thought that would further sap attendance.

A little girl gets her face painted at the 2013 Live Oak Park fair. Photo: Nancy Rubin
A little girl gets her face painted at the 2013 Live Oak Park fair. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Etre tried to move the Live Oak Park Fair to Mothers’ Day weekend when there are fewer competing events, but the city of Berkeley turned her down. The Himalayan Fair is always held the next weekend and Berkeley didn’t want the neighborhood, or park, to bear the brunt of two fairs two weeks in a row, she said.

In addition to the loss of the Live Oak Park Fair, North Berkeley will lose the Chocolate and Chalk Art Festival this year. Its organizer, Lisa Bullwinkel, is helping put together the Bay Area Book Festival and organizing two events so closely spaced was too difficult, she said. The Bay Area Book Festival is large, featuring many authors speaking at numerous venues spread around downtown.

Dan Marengo, the communications manager for Visit Berkeley, the city’s tourist bureau, said the Live Oak Fair will be missed.

“It added to the richness of the destination (Berkeley),” said Marengo. “We are known for our festivals and fairs, and to lose one is not good.”

Berkeley holds about 180 special events each year, which includes street festivals and park fairs, according to Eric Brenman, the city’s special-events coordinator. Around 450,000 people attend those events annually, he said. The biggest outdoor event is the Solano Stroll, which attracts from 175,000 to 200,000 people. The Kite Festival at the Marina attracts about 50,000 to 70,000 during its two-day span, he said. The type of events in the city run the gamut from the Persian New Year Festival, which will happen March 17, to the Berkeley Shakedown Festival, a tribute to the Grateful Dead, to Eats, Beats, and Brews, a block party in downtown Berkeley.

“The diversity of events reflects the diversity of Berkeley,” said Brenman.

The Live Oak Park Fair has attracted about 2,000 to 3,500 people annually over the years, said Brenman. The recession took a toll on some of the city’s special events, and not all of them have recovered. Vendors went out of business and people stopped coming. Brenman said. The Live Oak Park Fair had “not regained its footing,” he said.

The Live Oak Park Fair appears to be the longest running fair in Berkeley. It would have turned 45 this June. An entity named the Berkeley Art Fair Committee started the fair in 1970 during a time when young people were seeking alternative lifestyles, said Etre.

“The LOPF began in 1970 — it was during the Cultural Revolution when people decided to live close to the land, make their own lives, create their lives by hand,” said Etre. “A wonderful time in the history of the USA, crafts and progressive movements!”

Etre, who lived three blocks from Live Oak park then, had exhibited her art-work at the fair and grew increasingly despairing as she saw it decline in quality the older it got. When she discovered in 1987 that the committee intended to shutter the fair, she volunteered to take over. The committee then disbanded. Etre has run the festival ever since.

Etre plans to charge admission to the relocated fair, with 100% of the proceeds going to KPFA, an organization she holds dear. At 63, Etre said she is eager to hold the Pacifica radio station even more than she has in the past.

Photo Essay: Berkeley’s 43rd Live Oak Park Fair (06.10.13)
Photo essay: Live Oak Park Fair entering its fifth decade (06.13.11)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...