Nancy Fisher | 24th Street
|Fair Board members unveil the Don Diego Clock Tower
at its new location at the O’Brien Gate.
Photo Nancy Fisher.
Click to enlarge.
You probably don’t remember me, but we first met in 1957, when we were both four-years old, shiny and new. Your clock told perfect time, your bathrooms were state-of-the-art, and I was (as my late father described me) a ballistic missile waiting to be launched.
The image on your richly-tiled clock was of the fairground’s Ambassador of Good Will, Don Diego, as portrayed by actor Tommy Hernandez. The character, designed to be a symbol of hospitality, was based on the real life of Don Diego Alvarado whose family had a large land grant in Del Mar in the 1800s – but you probably know that.
No day at the fair could begin without a visit to you. A stop at the bathrooms, first, and then the instructions that every kid knows as well as the Pledge of Allegiance: “If we get separated, meet us at the clock tower.”
As the years went by, things changed - but not much. The biggie was that, when we made it to Earl Warren Junior High School, our parents would feel safe dropping us off at the main gate, knowing that we’d be meeting a group of friends at the clock tower. Romances bloomed, life-sized pandas that would occupy our bedrooms until college were won, and the cool kid from eighth grade learned that mixing corn dogs, cotton candy, and the Tilt-a-Wheel didn’t look so cool when he was losing his lunch in front of the clock tower.
When my friends of a certain age learned that the Fair Board had commuted the sentence of the crumbling clock tower from death row to relocation, we rejoiced. The legend of Don Diego, and of our Twiggy haircuts, lives on.
“It was ALWAYS the place to meet. The bathrooms were awful and it was where we found out what time it was (back in the day!). Tom and I both still work the fair every year (Tom with EMT/first aide and I as an ambassador), and it’s going to be so strange not having the clock tower there –really curious to see where its new location will be!”
– Retired Del Mar Fire Captain Tom Wolf and his wife Lori.
“The clock tower was very important to us! We would meet other families there and explain to our daughters and the other kids that this was where we’d meet if we got separated.”
– Former Del Mar Mayor and current Fair Board Member, Lee Haydu.
“Definitely the Don Diego Clock Tower is iconic from my teen years. I have a horrible sense of direction so it was great to look around and get my bearings from the tallest structure around. It was the meeting place for everyone, had a known bathroom, and there were always people waiting for their “lost” party to show up. I also remember seeing Raquel Tejada (Raquel Welch), the Fairest of the Fair, under the tower for PR one year!”
– San Dieguito High School friend and frequent Del Mar Fair-going companion, Susan Pignotti.
“My very first job ever, at age 15, was for the 22nd Ag District (fairgrounds), and I worked in the building north of the clock tower in front of the old grandstand. My job was to walk around in a blue vest telling people not to touch the woodworking exhibits from high school students, and the clock tower was very important to us as it was the official time we used for our shifts. I also got to meet Tommy Hernandez one time in the offices. Very big deal at that age! Kudos to the fair board for not letting Don Diego become a faded memory.”
– Retired Solana Beach Fire Chief David Holmerud.