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Del Mar Fairgrounds officials offer reassurance that the Don Diego clock tower, scheduled for demolition before the start of the 2017 San Diego County Fair, will be relocated somewhere at the state-owned facility. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Don Diego clock tower will be relocated onsite

DEL MAR — Addressing mostly negative comments about the fate of the Don Diego clock tower, Del Mar Fairgrounds officials at the Jan. 3 meeting reiterated plans to remove the structure from the center of the state-owned facility, but assured the tiles and clock face will be relocated onsite.

“It’s always been a part of the master plan to remove it,” General Manager Tim Fennell said. “We’ve been looking for a suitable location, and we’re still in the process of doing that.”

Russ Penniman, president of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, said one of the challenges is that the approximately 64-year old tower is three-sided.

“So we’ve got to be selective on where we put it so you can view all three faces, which is going to limit where we can put it on the property,” he said.

Options include the infield or the perimeter of the property, where it can be seen better, Penniman added.

“There are a number of different possibilities,” he said. “The question is, which is going to make the most sense.”

Installed in 1953, the clock tower was built using Googie architecture, a futuristic design that originated in Southern California in the 1940s and remained popular for about two decades.

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

According to the December 22nd DAA staff report, the structure represents a “fairly intact example” of Googie architecture, but 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, the report states.

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

At last month’s meeting of the 22nd DAA, which governs the fairgrounds, Fennell said the tower will be demolished before the start of the 2017 San Diego County Fair, which runs June 2 through July 4.

He and board members said the structure is deteriorating and unsafe, and it would be too expensive to refurbish it. The roof leaks and the restrooms, clock and video board don’t work.

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.

A Coast News Story about the demolition plans garnered more than 6,300 online views and two-dozen comments.

Susan Brower said when she attended the fair as a youngster, the structure was the go-to place if anyone got lost. Last year her father, who has dementia, was separated from the family.

“He remembered & he was found (there),” she wrote.

Another reader recalled her first date, which was during the fair in 1967.

“And we had to meet my guy’s dad at the clock tower at the end of the night,” she wrote.

Not all comments were negative. One reader described the tower as “insensitive and offensive to Mexican laborers and Mexican Americans.”

Paul Rowe, whose Escondido company manufactures clock towers, suggested building a slimmer version that, if high enough, could still provide the “see me at the clock tower focus point” and potential income as a cell tower.

Fair board Director Richard Valdez, who was born and raised in San Diego, said his vote to demolish the tower was “bittersweet” but the right move.

“I probably should have said out loud what I was thinking (at the December meeting),” he said. “The clock tower, to me, is iconic and it does have a history.

“Having made that vote was one that was bittersweet for me but one that I knew was the right vote to make for me,” he added. “I think those folks who looked into this issue beforehand allowed me the comfort level to vote the way I did.”