RPFI California Faire History


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Queen In the Spring and in the Fall, there are large faires in Southern and Northern California, in San Bernadino and Novato respectively. These, the Renaissance Pleasure Faires are the largest and oldest of the re-enactment/craft faires in the US, started in 1963! The faire was the brainchild of Phyllis Patterson and the non-profit organization Living History Center (LHC). For years LHC educated and entertained, reenacting an English village of the 1580s; offering food and things to buy and street actors and stage shows. But the recent history has been rocky.

Through chronic mismanagement (and some say white powder -- this was the early 80s after all) LHC went into bankruptcy and was forced to sell the land in Novato, which it then leased back from the purchaser. On a slightly different time period, the land in southern California at Agoura was slated for development and the faire's lease terminated. (Agoura was saved from development and turned into a National Preserve following the airplane crash of the developer.)

The Southern Faire found a new home at the Glen Helen Park in San Bernadino, and while the Northern land was sold, LHC continued to lease the land and hold the faire on that site. Two stories branch from here, one regarding the land and the other the faire. The land purchaser was a development firm who wants to build houses and put in a golf course (in oak scrub hills). The battles about the land have not at this writing (97) been resolved, but the faire has stopped putting everyone on teardown warning each year.

The story of the faire is that some degree of (apparent) mismanagment continued, and the faire lost money. Eventually, in 1993, the entire Pleasure Faire was purchased by a for-profit corporation, the Renaissance Entertainment Corporation (REC). (Auspicious name, no?)

Their first move was to replace the joust with REC's permanent joust group. Southern Faire saw the elimination of St. Helenas, the peasants guild. While quiet in Northern for the first few years, in 1995 they 'reorganized' and banished the guilds of St Ives and St Brigid! (Come on, the Scots didn't smell THAT badly.) Prices crept upwards as well, beer up $0.50, parking up $2, gate up a bit.

Now some say this is unfairly harsh and that REC, by turning a profit, and removing the chaff, facilitates a continuation of faire. No one particularly defends the sale of trashy souvenirs (though to their credit they do sell some decent books). The perceived goal is to cut down the stipended actors in favor of increased marketplace -- a standard practice of corporate america, cut employees while increasing sales. The question is, do people want more places to buy things or do they want more entertainment? (My personal guess is that they mostly don't care but they want cheaper gate fees and $2 beer.)

Gossip for 1997 indicates that the major faire characters will be swapped around, and perhaps some actors won't be coming back. For Southern faire they've suggested the repulsive intent of having hollywood actors play some parts (is that cost cutting?). Us grunts in the trenches will just wait and see I suppose. Wish us all luck.

As of May 1999, RPFS is still at Glen Helen and presently running. The Novato site at Black Point was bid its final farewell last fall and the structures there razed. Court battles still flare regarding its development. RPFN examined potential new homes in Vallejo, Sunol, before signing a 10 year agreement in Antioch. However, Antioch residents, like those of Sunol before them raised significant opposition and have stalled RPFN-Antioch for 1999. The new gossipped location is in Vacaville on the Nut Tree property.

Faire spent three years (1999, 2000, 2001) on the Nut Tree property in Vacaville.

In 2002, RPFN moved to the Casa de Fruita property outside of Gilroy.


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