With passersby looking on, construction workers on Monday oh-so-carefully lowered 11-foot concrete letters onto the ground in front of the gates to Cal Expo. The letters -- spelling C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A -- reached their final destination in California's capital city after traveling more than 400 miles from Anaheim.
The California Exposition and State Fair began installing letters that once had greeted visitors to the Disney California Adventure Park, a state history-themed amusement park next to Disneyland. The letters, thick concrete slabs weighing between 5,000 and 13,000 pounds, had to be handled gingerly as they were lowered, said Scott Ingram, the senior vice president of marketing for Golden 1 Credit Union.
"They're heavy," Ingram said, watching as the crane operator began lowering an 'I' onto the ground. "You wouldn't want one falling on your foot."
The $100,000 cost of installing the letters was largely sponsored by Golden 1 Credit Union, said Michelle Prater, a spokeswoman for the California State Fair. Although the concrete monoliths are still being held up by metal support beams, those should be taken away by July 11, in time for a dedication ceremony thanking both Disney and Golden 1. After the fair ends, SMUD will help put LED lights into the ground that will illuminate the letters at night.
The Walt Disney Company donated the letters to Friends of the California State Fair, a non-profit group in the fall of 2012. But installation couldn't begin right away. The letters, which weigh a combined 87,000 pounds, first had to be taken from Disneyland to a state fair warehouse by truck.
"They said, 'Great, we're taking them down, come and get 'em,'" said Rick Pickering, the CEO of California Exposition and State Fair.
But because the California State Fair didn't have any semi trucks fit to carry the heavy load up the state, they enlisted the help of Butler Amusements, a company that provides rides and attractions for fairs and carnivals throughout the state. The company agreed to help, and the letters made their way up to Sacramento, sitting on special rubber pallets to keep them from cracking.
From there, state fair officials had to run engineering tests and make sure the soil in front of Cal Expo was fit to anchor the letters. It was almost like getting approval to construct a building, Prater said.
"It's not just a matter of popping a letter in," Prater said.
But as soon as the concrete hardens, the construction fences come down and the caution tape is removed, the letters will begin their vigil in front of Cal Expo, which sees about 2.5 million visitors each year.
"These letters belong now to the people of California," Prater said.
California State Fair information
Dates: July 12-28, 2013
Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-10p.m.
Call The Bee's Ben Mullin, (916) 321-1034.