Don Diego clock tower’s time has come

Don Diego clock tower’s time has come
The Don Diego clock tower in the center of the Del Mar Fairgrounds will be demolished before the beginning of the San Diego County Fair June 2. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

DEL MAR — Veteran visitors to the San Diego County Fair may notice something missing during the 2017 run, which runs June 2 through July 4.

The Don Diego clock tower, which has stood in the center of the state-owned facility since 1953, will be demolished, a move approved by the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors at the Dec. 13 meeting.

“It’s being held together by threads and termites holding hands,” President Russ Penniman said.

“I hear if the termites stop holding hands it will fall down,” General Manager Tim Fennell said. “To refurbish the building would be extremely, extremely costly.”

The roof leaks and the restrooms, clock and video board don’t work, he added.

Potential vendors made a “strong commitment,” according to the staff report, for about $300,000 in rent annually for the site just during the fair.

“It is anticipated that this area could/would be used for other events throughout the year, representing additional revenues,” the staff report states.

The 63-year old tower was built using Googie architecture, a futuristic design that originated in Southern California in the 1940s and remained popular for about two decades.

The style was used in iconic structures such as The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport and The Space Needle in Seattle, Washington, as well as coffee shops and motels nationwide.

In 1954, in decorative tiles, the likeness of Don Diego, longtime official greeter and host of the fair, was added to the façade of the clock tower, located along the main fair avenue west of O’Brien Hall, north of Bing Crosby Hall and south of the Plaza de Mexico.

While the tower represents a “fairly intact example” of Googie architecture, it doesn’t qualify as a listing for the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register of Historic Resources.

It also does not represent the work of a master or possess artistic value, according to the staff report.

The decorative tiles and clock face will be reused at other sites at the fairgrounds.

A 2009 environmental impact report evaluating the impacts of a master plan for improvements at the facility included demolition of the clock tower.

“It’s not like this hasn’t been talked about in the past,” Director David Watson said.

Because of its central location the structure has long been a popular meeting place for fairgoers, which Director Fred Schenck said was its one redeeming value at this point.

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