Framework

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Aug. 10, 1935: A crowd of about 100,000 attends picnic held by the Iowa Assn. of Southern California at Bixby Park in Long Beach. Members of the Iowa Golden Wedding Club and their families sit at table. The Iowa Golden Wedding Club had more than 500 couples, married 50 years of more, at the picnic.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Feb. 25, 1933: Picnic at Lincoln Park attended by former Iowa residents. This photo was published in the Feb. 26, 1933, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Aug. 10, 1935: Crowd listens to California Gov. Frank Merriam's speech during the annual picnic held by the Iowa Assn. of Southern California at Bixby Park in Long Beach. This photo was published in the Aug. 11, 1935, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Aug. 10, 1935: Couples pose for the photographer during the annual picnic held by the Iowa Assn. of Southern California at Bixby Park in Long Beach. The Iowa Golden Wedding Club, sign on right, is for couples married 50 years or longer. The front sign, G.A.R. is for members of the Grand Army of the Republic -- veterans of the Civil War.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Aug. 10, 1935: Married brothers and sisters at the annual picnic held by the Iowa Assn. of Southern California. Carl and Lulu Hopping on left and Frank and Kate Hopping on right. Crowd of 100,000 attended the event at Bixby Park in Long Beach.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA / Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Aug. 10, 1935: Couples dance during the annual picnic held by the Iowa Assn. of Southern California. Crowd of 100,000 attended the event at Bixby Park in Long Beach.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Feb. 29, 1936: Dr. Harry M. Gage, President of Coe College, speaks at the Iowa Picnic in Lincoln Park, Los Angeles. Coe College is located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Feb. 29, 1936: About 100,000 former Iowa residents attend picnic at Lincoln Park in Los Angeles. The sign "Floyd" refers to meeting area for former residents of Floyd County in Iowa.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Feb. 29, 1936: Iowa residents during the picnic at Lincoln Park in Los Angeles. This photo was published in the March 1, 1936, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Feb. 29, 1936: During Iowa picnic at Lincoln Park, registration books are signed. This photo was published in the March 1, 1936, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Feb. 29, 1936: About 100,000 former Iowa residents attend picnic at LIncoln Park in Los Angeles. While there is no information on this table, each Iowa county was represented by a gathering spot where former residents could register, read county newspapers and try to find former neighbors.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Feb. 25, 1956: Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson kneels at edge of speakers' platform to shake hands with Iowans at the annual Iowa Assn. of Southern California picnic held at Sycamore Grove. About 45,000 attended the picnic. This photo was published in the Feb. 26, 1956, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bill Murphy / Los Angeles Times

Dec. 31, 1956: The Scottish Highlanders from the University of Iowa entertain Iowans during a picnic at Brookside Park in Pasadena. About 50,000 Iowans attended picnic the day before Iowa defeated Oregon State, 35-19, in the 1957 Rose Bowl game.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ken Dare / Los Angeles Times

Aug. 12, 1961: Iowa Gov. Norman Erbe is the main speaker at Iowa Picnic at Recreation Park in Long Beach. Erbe asked the former Iowans to send him messages explaining why they left his state. This photo was published in the Aug. 13, 1961, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ed Lundberg / Los Angeles Times

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Iowa state picnics in Los Angeles County

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Iowa state picnics in Los Angeles County

During the first half of the 20th century, state picnics were a Southern California fixture. The Iowa state picnics – held twice a year – were the biggest. Crowds of 100,000 were common.  That size crowd was reported in the Los Angeles Times for picnics held on Aug. 10, 1935, and Feb. 29, 1936. The large crowds lasted into the 1950s, but dwindled afterward.

The demise of the once large picnics was reported by staff writer Steve Tamaya in the Aug. 2, 1982, Los Angeles Times:

Picnic organizers once loved to play the guessing game of estimating the attendance at an Iowa picnic, although they sometime drew criticism from those who felt the crowd counts were a bit exaggerated.

Recently, however, there has been little chance for exaggeration.

They’re expecting only about 35 people for this weekend’s 77th annual Iowa summer picnic at Bixby Park in Long Beach. That’s the same number of people who attended last year’s picnic; in 1980, about 75 showed up.

The expected turnout for the Aug. 14 event represents the low point in a tradition that has endured for more than a quarter of a century in a city known as “Iowa by the Sea.”

Irma Ruffridge, secretary-treasurer of the Iowa Assn. of Long Beach, feels it may not endure much longer.

“I see us no longer having a picnic in the next few years,” Ruffridge said with a tone of resignation.

The support for the annual picnic uniting former Iowans living in the Southland has, in Ruffridge’s words, literally died out.

“The older people, most of them are gone,” she said. “And the younger people, they don’t have that much interest. They don’t have time for a picnic.”

It didn’t start out that way.

There used to be two picnics every year. The Iowa winter picnic, usually held at Lincoln Park in Los Angeles or Brookside Park in Pasadena, was founded by the Southland Iowa Assn. on Jan. 18, 1900.

Six years later, the Iowa Assn. of Long Beach, because of the city’s large population of Iowa expatriates, became the host of a second picnic, held annually on the second Saturday in August.

With estimates placing the number of Iowans living in the Southland at close to 500,000 during the first half of the century, the picnics drew large crowds. The governor of Iowa, along with the mayor of Long Beach, used to make yearly pilgrimages to Long Beach’s Recreation Park, eating the usual fare of fried chicken and potato salad.

“We used to have tremendous crowds. You could hardly walk around the tables,” said Ruffridge, who has been to every summer picnic since her family moved from Charles City, Iowa, in 1952.

Gradually, the crowds became smaller. Ruffridge said she believes the Southland Iowa Assn. stopped having the winter picnic in the late 1960s because of declining interest and has since disbanded.

Attendance at the Iowa summer picnic dipped in the hundreds around 1972, Ruffridge said. “The Long Beach association, which Ruffridge believes is the only organization of Iowans in the Southland, has only 75 members. All of them live in Long Beach, Ruffridge said.

Images from the 1935 Long Beach summer picnic and the 1936 Lincoln Park winter picnic make up the bulk of this photo gallery. These images are from the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive at UCLA. I added several additional scans from prints in the Los Angeles Times archive.

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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