The Coast News Group
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
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Don Diego clock tower’s time has come

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.


Tina December 19, 2016 at 10:08 pm

This is such a shame! Seriously? With all of the money made just on the fair, they can’t refurbish this historic landmark?

Douglas Scott December 20, 2016 at 7:51 am

Well, why did they not maintain it? Really, it seems like these authorities build something, and then just sit back and let it deteriorate.

Reproduce it. It is such a quintessential bit of San Diego.

Gregory December 20, 2016 at 8:15 am

This is a landmark that should be preserved, not erased. THIS is what we think of when we think of the Del Mar Fair! Come on, do right by it and our history and fix it up!

Lisah December 20, 2016 at 8:57 am

No no and NO!!
The 22nd ag has SO MUCH MONEY.

This is a San Diego staple and we have to have this preserved!

Spend the money and FIX IT!! 😡

Susan L Brower December 20, 2016 at 9:00 am

Last year my Dementia Father got lost at the fair and for years we where always told as kids to go to the Don Diego Tower if we got lost. He remembered & he was found their. What a shame its going a way. What Icon of the Fair for us born & raised in San Diego Baby Boomers.

Steven Brooks December 20, 2016 at 9:21 am

Keep destroying the things that make San Diego charming and interesting and soon nobody will want to visit once you’re aiming for bland and typical, and kowtowing to big money. Disgusting, shameful, and people need to remember the names involved in these decisions. Seaport Village and now this… Criminal.

Patricia Moore December 20, 2016 at 9:25 am

Terrible! This is part of San Diego history! This is the same mentality of bulldozing down the houses from the past to replace them with condos.

Kevin D December 20, 2016 at 10:13 am

It’s easy to say, just fix it! I think the quote, “Extremely, extremely expensive”proved demolition is necessary and a safety issue. Just like my employees tell me, fix it you own a business your rich! Ummm, no! It’s always about dollars and cents. Just like a commenter complained about Seaport Village being leveled and repurposed. It’s about dollars and cents. What’s there now is so underutilized for its location. Something else will be built in the clock towers place just as grand and will help make money because as much as some of you don’t want to hear it’s about dollars and cents. Look at the beautiful parks and other public services finished and planned. We’re getting away from that small town mentality. Finally! We’re a city with so many assets and possibilities it’s time to move forward to grow and improve. Some things won’t be preserved unfortunately. Let’s remember this is something that isn’t used every day that warrants over paying to save it but you want everything the same move to a smaller town and not a world class city. Lived here since the 70’s and today’s San Diego is impressively better!! Still have ways to go.

Kevin December 20, 2016 at 10:16 am

Key phrase “could be used for additional revenue”. $$ wins over history every damn time.

Sandra December 20, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Oh, it is a shame to see another iconic monument demolished. Lived in San Diego in the 1950s and 1960s. Going to the Del Mar Fair was part of my childhood. Took my son to the fair on visits to relatives. Don Diego is part of the cultural landscape and should not be jettisoned. The tower emblazoned with his image is historic and does have value, both sentimental and cultural as part of the historic background of San Diego even from its mission days. Never let that fade away. It’s part and parcel of what makes San Diego charming and uniquely diverse.

Peggy December 20, 2016 at 2:33 pm

First Fairest of the Fair and now Don Diego. Please build a new monument of Don Diego, he is the fair.

Betsy December 20, 2016 at 5:38 pm

At least rebuild a replica in its stead. To wipe away a historic landmark like this is just plain WRONG! Btw – I had my first date at the fair in 1967. And we had to meet my guy’s dad at the clock tower at the end of the night.

Jay Clark December 20, 2016 at 6:49 pm

Has anyone contacted the Del Mar Historical Society to see if at least the clock and image of Don Diego might be preserved, and/or incorporated into the new structure ???

Jay Clark December 20, 2016 at 6:51 pm

GET a Clue! 3,476 have read this and there are 0 “likes”!

Beth Arballo Souders December 20, 2016 at 7:52 pm

Such a shame to not do something to restore or rebuild this historical monument.and over having more space to make more money- ridiculous! Charm and tradition have huge value. It’s a shame that the people in charge don’t realize that.

As a child I grew up at the Fair because my grandfather worked there for years. Don Diego was a centerpiece and the Fairest of the Fair as well. Newer, flashier, higher dollar value aren’t automatically better and that couldn’t be more true than in this situation.

What an enormous shame!!

paulrowe December 20, 2016 at 8:20 pm

Our Company manufactures Tower Clocks in Escondido, CA. From the picture, it looks like the clock face is missing hands.
A slim clock tower could provide the “see me at the clock tower” focus point without taking us so much space and if high enough might be rented to a cell company for antennas.
Paul Rowe
Maas-Rowe Carillons, Inc.

Susan December 20, 2016 at 8:24 pm


Bobby December 20, 2016 at 11:21 pm

Disgusted by this decision. Well, maybe if you can make soooooo much with that spot, my 8 oz beer price will drop a couple bucks. Otherwise, I don’t need the fair anymore! The beach is very close!

Eric Awful December 20, 2016 at 11:54 pm

This is a crime…and so typical of San Diego mentality. Forget the past and everyone with it.

Marc Poschman December 21, 2016 at 12:25 am

Replace it with a new, identical structure then! Build it of cinderblock and other material that doesn’t feed termites. Use shotcrete, etc. The “Don Diego” is the fairground’s “Statue of Liberty”, the main public restrooms and location for lost children! It’s the soul of the fair! Don’t pretend it has no value! Without it, the fairgrounds have no “center”.

Kevin Preciado December 21, 2016 at 12:33 am

Since when do Termites hold cinder block and stucco together😕???? They must be Mortar Mites!!!!!
I’ve never seen a Termite devour ceramic tile either. The building is mostly built of cinder block that is topped with a wood roof-eaves.
All built in Classic California Googie Architecture.

Don’t attempt to BS the people that carry a long appreciation for all things Googie as they are demolished at a alarming high rate. We all know there is something else behind this.

This building can be saved, restored and utilized for many functions.

Perhaps fairground administrative personnel can do the jobs that the people of SD County provide for them and MAINTAIN ITS EXISTENCE and repair what’s necessary (Where that will provide jobs for the restoration workers) in order to make it a bookable venue.
Think about all of what would end up in a landfill vs what can be saved by doing a restoration.

I notice the staff report isn’t published in the article as then it would be up for debate.

Do the right thing people and SAVE IT!!!!

Catherine Leonard Cook December 21, 2016 at 6:56 am

This certainly is an iconic landmark! It can and should be restored as such. If it was in that bad shape as falsely stated it would have been closed off at the past events! Shame, shame, shame on those greedy enough to vote to demolish!!!!!!. Sounds like more political bs to me.

Pam Kragen December 21, 2016 at 10:37 am

I’m writing a story on the demolition for the San Diego Union-Tribune. If you have a particularly strong connection to the tower (maybe you hung out there as a kid, loved Don Diego, or it was where you met your parents after getting lost as a child, whatever), I’d love to hear from you for a possible quote in the newspaper article. Email me at:

Shana December 21, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Finally! This tower is insensitive and offensive to Mexican laborers and Mexican Americans.

"B" December 22, 2016 at 1:24 am


Dan December 22, 2016 at 6:50 am

Of course their hired guns whom I bet aren’t even from SD can easily say it’s not historic. They just get paid to say that. In this case it’s about community memory and a landmark that coveys a sense of time and place. Not every historic site has to be by a master architect or be a significant example of architectural style. A lamppost, a bunker, or a shack can be historic if it represents a community’s collective memory, or a time and place in history significant to that community. The clock tower is VERY iconic – I believe the developers highly skewed report should be rebutted. And developers ALWAYS pull out that bullshit line about termites holding hands. When you hear that line rest assured they’re just out to make their buck and too lazy to look at alternatives to their demolition plans.

It’s a load of crap when they say it is infeasoble for the building to be restored. There are numerous firms in the county that specialize in such projects so they will pencil out. But the developers are too in love with filling the landfills with demolition rubble and putting up their generic looking stucco junk.

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