gmhTODAY 09 gmhToday July Aug 2016 - Page 79

F or 26 years, the popular annual Gilroy Roundup and Gymkhana was a major stopover on the California Rodeo Circuit, in time becoming one of 600 professional rodeo venues held throughout the United States and Canada. Contestants on the professional cowboy tour, joined by rodeo performers, ropers and riders, passed through town, showing off their talents and offering the public a rousing good time. The idea for a local rodeo and roundup was first suggested in early October 1930, proposed by a local business group headed by George Milias, Jr. The promotional draw, labeled a two-day “Fiesta,” was to take place over November 15 and 16, 1930. A Gymkhana Association was incorporated and by early November, with two weeks to go, events and prizes were posted. Monterey Street was decorated and a parade was planned. Complete with the election of Emeryl McHale as Gilroy’s first Gymkhana Princess, the event was scheduled to include equestrian acts, awards and concessions. Then the November rains arrived early, causing attendance to dwindle, and gate receipts to fall. In addition, many professional contestants had already headed home, because Gilroy was at the end of the year’s rodeo circuit. Fortunately a rain insurance policy saved the ticket sales losses. In the end, the Gymkhana Association was able to declare a dividend of $2,000, split between the American Legion and the newly opened Wheeler Hospital. In following years, the Association placed the event on a June calendar. On June 19, 1931, the Gilroy Advocate noted that the Gymkhana was a hit. By its fourth anniversary, 8,000 attended the event. In a burst of civic pride, the June 16, 1933 Advocate enthusiastically labeled the Gymkhana equal to anything of its kind ever held in the West, stating “That Gilroy’s annual roundup is making a prominent niche for itself in big Western shows goes without saying, and all of the success is due to this group of citizens who labored night and day for a month or more, to insure its success.” The Gymkhana settled into a regular early summer stop on the rodeo circuit. A scheduled series of events fell into place: colorful banners were hung from streetlights and downtown buildings, and merchants adorned their storefronts with posters of buckaroos and bronco- busters. The Jaycees set up a fundraiser “Hoosegow,” in which members “arrested,” “jailed” and “fined” anyone seen in public not dressed in Western wear. The exciting weekend kick-off included Friday and Saturday night Cowboy Dances, held during the early years in the Filice and Perelli Cannery ware- house, and later at the newly constructed Wheeler Auditorium. A “Queen of the West” contest attracted eager contestants vying to earn valuable prizes. In 1933, the big prize was a trip to Hollywood as guest of Ken Maynard, a popular cowboy movie star, complete with a screen test at Universal Studios. In 1935, Western star Buck Jones advised Pat Holman, the Gymkhana Queen, not to take the prize overly seriously. She had just spent six hours in front of silent and talkie movie cameras after sitting through two hours in the makeup room. The downtown parade was held on both Saturday and Sunday of Gymkhana weekend. Crowds gathered three deep along Monterey Street to watch the grand procession, which began at 1 pm from the railroad depot. Both the Southern GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN JULY / AUGUST 2016 Pacific and Gilroy High School bands, plus drum corps from San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Jose, Hollister and Gilroy led a procession of 1,000 horse- men up Monterey Street. Ornate floats sponsored by local organizations followed. A rear file of open cars bore a cavalcade of local mayors and dignitaries from area cities. The parade north on Monterey Street turned east at I.O.O.F Avenue toward the Gilroy High School football stadium. Converted for the occasion into a Gymkhana arena, the grounds were located slightly north of the present athletic field of South Valley Junior High. The Gymkhana itself lasted from 2-5:30 pm. Featured arena events included calf roping, bareback riding, saddle bronco riding, and bull dogging. Besides stunt riders and clowns, working acts around the surrounding track included races, jumps and a frenzied wild horse race. The last Gymkhana was held on Sunday, June 17, 1956. Attendance had dwindled and a Gilroy Dispatch report observed that the venue’s program had lacked sufficient content in recent years. On that final day, the traditional, stirring pageant that had exhilarated so many for so long, took its last trip up Monterey Street to the Gymkhana grounds and rode into Gilroy’s nostalgic history. After the final Gymkhana, a figure of five-time World Champion Rodeo Rider Casey Tibbs astride his horse, Warpaint, was installed above Hall’s Clothing Store at the corner of Monterey and Sixth Streets. The figure, since removed, remained for decades, reminding folks of a time when the days of the Old West came alive, and everyone had a rip- roaring good time. gmhtoday.com 79