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.