On Feb. 14 the Don Diego clock tower rested on the ground next to a pile of rubble that was once its supporting structure. The deteriorating building was demolished. A new home on the Del Mar Fairgrounds for the more than 60-year-old tower has been narrowed to two possible locations. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Fairgrounds clock tower grounded, supporting building demolished

DEL MAR — The deteriorating building on which it stood for more than six decades is gone. But, as promised, the Don Diego clock tower has been preserved and is ready for relocation on one of two possible sites at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

It was announced in December that the structure, which has stood in the center of the state-owned facility since 1953, would be demolished for safety reasons.

“It’s being held together by threads and termites holding hands,” said Russ Penniman, president of the 22nd District Agricultural Association that governs the fairgrounds.

General Manager Tim Fennell said refurbishing the building would be too expensive given that the roof leaks and the restrooms, clock and video board don’t work.

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

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.

Decorative tiles in the likeness of Don Diego, longtime official greeter and host of the fair, were added in 1954 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.

When news of the demolition broke, many San Diego residents said the iconic structure should remain. But fairgrounds officials reiterated their plans in January to remove the building but relocate the clock tower, used by many for years as a meeting place during the annual fair.

On Feb. 14 the clock tower, completely intact, stood on the ground next to a pile of rubble that was once the supporting structure.

Fennell said the locations of its permanent home would remain a surprise until a final decision is made.

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