Guide to the Trini Contreras Photographs – Miss California Collection (1955 – 1985) – History

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The Miss California Pageant was first held in 1924 in Santa Cruz, California. In the first years the competition was called the ‘Miss California Bathing Beauty Contest.’ A number of local Santa Cruz businessmen and politicians wanted to boost tourism and revenue by making Santa Cruz more like Atlantic City. This idea came from the popularity of the first Miss America Pageant held in Atlantic City in 1921. The first Miss California was Fay Lanphier of Oakland. There was a small controversy concerning her win and title as ‘Miss California Bathing Beauty’ as she could not swim. In 1925 she won the title of Miss America.

The pageant became vastly popular and drew huge crowds every year. In 1945 the Miss California Pageant began awarding scholarships. This changed the emphasis from a ‘beauty pageant’ to a scholarship program.’ The competition was moved from the boardwalk to the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium in 1966.

There have almost always been protests associated with the Miss California Pageant. In the 1920s protests focused on women wearing too much makeup and showing too much skin. The protestors saw the competition as an indecent and immoral spectacle. Protests since the 1960s have focused on a lack of diversity and the negative effects on female body image. One of the most disruptive protestors was Ann Simonton. She was outspoken about how the pageant objectified women. Some of her protests included wearing dresses and bikinis of meat (denoting that women in the competition were treated like meat), throwing a bucket of blood on stage, and creating the ‘Myth California’ counter-pageant with Nikki Craft. The ‘Myth California’ protestors wore sashes identifying them as contestants, such as Miss Behavin, Miss Understood, and Miss Ogeny. These protests were part of why the pageant was eventually moved.

The competition was moved to San Diego in 1985. The franchise was again moved in 1994, it now resides in Fresno, California. The Miss California officials have maintained the assertion that the pageant is a scholarship program focused on career development, education, and community service, not just a beauty pageant.

Trini Contreras – Trinidad ‘Trini’ Contreras was born February 2nd, 1921 (or February 2nd, 1918) outside of Mexico City. As a teenager, Contreras competed in grueling cross-country bicycle races across Central America. He studied chemistry at the University of Mexico for one year until his funding ran short. Trini moved to Chicago at the age of twenty after visiting the United States several times. He learned English while working as a janitor and laborer, at the time he was also looking for photography work. He was hired at a U.S. Steel photo lab and was later transferred to San Francisco. Contreras eventually moved to Santa Cruz to open his own business. He was a photographer for the Miss Santa Cruz pageant and eventually became the official photographer of the Miss California Pageant. He worked with the pageant from the 1950s until it left town in 1984. During this time he took classes at the Brooks Institute in San Francisco, worked as a freelance photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle, and opened a Mexican Restaurant called ‘Casa Contreras.’ He opened Casa Contreras in 1978, it was closed after it was severely damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Trini closed his Santa Cruz studio in 2000, but continued to take photos and show his work. He died in Santa Cruz, California on November 17th of 2003. He was 82 or 85, depending on which year he told you he was born in.