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Stunning Vintage Photos from the Frontier Fiesta in the 1950s at the University of Houston

Every spring semester, Frontier Fiesta takes place on campus at the University of Houston. It usually takes place between the last weekend of March and the first weekend of April. During this event, student groups perform a variety of shows, host carnival booths, and present multicultural performances, cooks participate in a hefty cook-off competition, and big-name performers perform for free. It began in 1939 and was discontinued during the War years (WWII) and resumed in 1947 through 1959. As the tradition grew over the next few years, Houston mayors often declared “Fiesta City” as an official “town” for the week. Frontier Fiesta was revived in 1991 and continues to this day.

One of Frontier Fiesta’s most popular attractions is its variety of shows. Student groups host these 30-minute shows that include singing and dancing. Throughout the evening, student groups, alumni groups, and other cookoff teams host various cookoff sites where patrons can eat, drink, and listen to music. Additionally, individual schools host cookoffs for students and alumni, such as the Bauer College of Business and the Architecture School. The sites are usually privately run, and participants must receive an invitation or pay an entry fee to join. Fiesta Committees are given significant budgets and asked to bring in talent that will be well received and well-liked.

Dr. Kemmerer, the second-in-command to UH President Oberholtzer, is remembered for founding Frontier Fiesta and championing the event. Following a brief hiatus during World War II, Dr. Kemmerer revived Fiesta in 1946, achieving national recognition in 1953. At that time, Frontier Fiesta drew crowds of up to 200,000 people, including celebrities such as James Garner and Humphrey Bogart. In 1958, LIFE Magazine called it “the Greatest College Show on Earth” because it took weeks and months for students to prepare.

Here are some stunning photos from the 1953 Frontier Fiesta.

#1 Frontier Fiesta dancer group portrait, 1950s

Frontier Fiesta dancer group portrait, 1950s

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#2 Frontier Fiesta show host with performer, 1950s

Frontier Fiesta show host with performer, 1950s

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#3 Mr. and Mrs. Cullen tour Frontier Fiesta, 1950s

Mr. and Mrs. Cullen tour Frontier Fiesta, 1950s

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#4 Frontier Fiesta Belle, Jamie Acker, with gun, 1950s

Frontier Fiesta Belle, Jamie Acker, with gun, 1950s

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#5 Fiesta General Chairman, 1950s

Fiesta General Chairman, 1950s

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#6 Handshake at Fiesta City gate, 1950s

Handshake at Fiesta City gate, 1950s

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#7 Singing quartet at microphone, 1950s

Singing quartet at microphone, 1950s

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#8 Students perform on stage, 1950s

Students perform on stage, 1950s

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#9 Students dressed as outlaws near the Fiesta City gate, 1950s

Students dressed as outlaws near the Fiesta City gate, 1950s

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#10 Three students eating, 1953

Three students eating, 1953

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#11 Student band portrait, 1950s

Student band portrait, 1950s

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#12 Bayou Queen booth facade, 1950s

Bayou Queen booth facade, 1950s

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#13 Performers dancing on stage, 1950s

Performers dancing on stage, 1950s

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#14 Students with Pepsi, 1950s

Students with Pepsi, 1950s

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#15 Jersey Lil booth, 1950s

Jersey Lil booth, 1950s

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#16 Students perform can-can on stage, 1950s

Students perform can-can on stage, 1950s

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#17 Crows Nest stage entrance, 1950s

Crows Nest stage entrance, 1950s

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#18 Portrait of a student in costume, 1954

Portrait of a student in costume, 1954

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#19 Jail booth, 1950s

Jail booth, 1950s

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#20 Student performance, 1950s

Student performance, 1950s

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#21 Pair-O-Dice float, 1950s

Pair-O-Dice float, 1950s

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#22 Silver Moon Saloon float, 1950s

Silver Moon Saloon float, 1950s

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#23 On stage at Corral, 1950s

On stage at Corral, 1950s

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#24 Student shaves a man’s beard, 1950s

Student shaves a man's beard, 1950s

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#25 Student performance of Bayou Queen musical, 1950s

Student performance of Bayou Queen musical, 1950s

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#26 Concession booth with price list, 1950s

Concession booth with price list, 1950s

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#27 Students with balloons, 1950s

Students with balloons, 1950s

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#28 Earl McMillian, Inc. car, 1950s

Earl McMillian, Inc. car, 1950s

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#29 Four performers, 1950s

Four performers, 1950s

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#30 Performer stands in heart-shaped frame, 1950s

Performer stands in heart-shaped frame, 1950s

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#31 Jenna Coy Huddleston performs at the Tombstone Theater, 1956

Jenna Coy Huddleston performs at the Tombstone Theater, 1956

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#32 French Quarter float, 1950s

French Quarter float, 1950s

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#33 Performers dancing with parasols, 1950s

Performers dancing with parasols, 1950s

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#34 Bella Union exterior view, 1950s

Bella Union exterior view, 1950s

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#35 The Dirty Shame Saloon, 1950s

The Dirty Shame Saloon, 1950s

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#36 Students in costume, 1950s

Students in costume, 1950s

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#37 Southwestern Savings & Loan Association bus, 1950s

Southwestern Savings & Loan Association bus, 1950s

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#38 Student shaves another student’s beard, 1950s

Student shaves another student's beard, 1950s

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#39 Student shaves man in cowboy hat, 1950s

Student shaves man in cowboy hat, 1950s

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#40 Performer with small boy, 1950s

Performer with small boy, 1950s

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#41 Candid shot of performers in costume, 1950s

Candid shot of performers in costume, 1950s

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#42 Students sit on a wooden ledge, 1950s

Students sit on a wooden ledge, 1950s

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#43 Two men in hats, 1950s

Two men in hats, 1950s

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#44 Students pose in costume, 1950s

Students pose in costume, 1950s

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#45 Student pins a sheriff’s badge on another student, 1950s

Student pins a sheriff's badge on another student, 1950s

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#46 Four students with guitar, 1950s

Four students with guitar, 1950s

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#47 Small boy in costume shaking hands with students, 1950s

Small boy in costume shaking hands with students, 1950s

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#48 The 49’er booth set up, 1950s

The 49'er booth set up, 1950s

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#49 June Linquist shaves Marvin Brisco, 1953

June Linquist shaves Marvin Brisco, 1953

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#50 Frontier Fiesta audience, 1950s

Frontier Fiesta audience, 1950s

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#51 Groundbreaking ceremony at Frontier Fiesta, 1950s

Groundbreaking ceremony at Frontier Fiesta, 1950s

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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