San Diego

Del Mar Fairgrounds Relocates Historic Don Diego Clock Tower

In December 2016, it was announced that the iconic clock tower at the Del Mar Fairgrounds would be demolished – but, three months later, it has been save

Looks like Don Diego’s time at the Del Mar Fairgrounds isn’t up, after all.

The Don Diego Clock Tower – an iconic feature at the Del Mar Fairgrounds – has been relocated. It’s new home, at the O’Brien Gate entrance in front of the fairgrounds, was unveiled Tuesday.

Shawn Feisst, a spokesperson for the fairgrounds, said the historic tower – which stands 27 feet tall and weighs 30,000 pounds – was recently successfully removed from a building at the main entrance of the fairgrounds.

In December 2016, the Del Mar Fairgrounds announced it would demolish the Don Diego Clock Tower building, which had been unusable and in a state of disrepair for nearly 10 years.

[G] Don Diego Clock Tower Gets New Spot at Del Mar Fairgrounds

The highly-recognizable Don Diego tower was set to be torn down with the building. However, in the end, crews were able to save the tower including three mosaic panels depicting the smiling “Don Diego” character, also known as the fair’s longtime ambassador.

"A little piece of history [was] saved," Feisst told NBC 7.

The tower, which is made of wood, steel, adobe mansonry and ceramic tile, was carefully removed from the building with a 60-foot crane, Feisst said.

The clock tower's second chance at life at the fairgrounds won't end there. Feisst said the tower's clocks have been repaired. Its tiles will also be refurbished and the stucco will be resurfaced.

The Don Diego Clock Tower was built in 1953 and unveiled to the public at the 1954 fair, just in time for the Southern California Exposition.

According to the Del Mar Fairgrounds website, the character was meant to be a symbol of hospitality for the fair – an ambassador of sorts – described as a “dashing caballero,” or gentleman, smiling and welcoming fairgoers.

Del Mar Fairgrounds staff says that the clock tower is falling apart and that it no longer serves it’s original purpose- telling time. NBC 7’s Artie Ojeda has more.

The character of Don Diego was based on the real-life Don Diego Alvarado, whose family had a large land grant in Del Mar during the late 1800s. He was known as a gracious host of lavish parties.

From 1947 until 1984, an actor, Tom Hernandez, was even hired to portray Don Diego at the fair each summer.

The clock tower has been around for nearly 63 years but, for the last decade or so, had been falling apart. The building that it topped housed bathrooms that were no longer in use. The clock was without hands.

"Unfortunately, Father Time catches up to all of us," said Russ Penniman, president of the 22nd District Agricultural Association (DAA), which oversees the Del Mar Fairgrounds. "And the Don Diego Clock Tower was no exception. It's support base was no longer functional, and it was becoming potentially unsafe."

The 22nd DAA made the decision three months ago to demolish the clock tower but said there would be an effort to save and preserve some parts of it.

Penniman said that for board members and staffers of the 22nd DAA, "preserving the clock tower became a priority."

Ultimately, those efforts paid off.

Now, Don Diego lives on in a new spot, where crowds can still gather around it. The tower is often used as an easy place for families to meet up -- at a certain  time, of course -- when they're at the fair and want to reunite after branching off to do their own thing.

Penniman said the tower's new location is highly-visible, so fairgoers won't have a hard time finding it and can still use it as a meet-up spot.

"What a fitting location it is," he added. "Everyone driving by on Jimmy Durante Boulevard can see the new clock tower's location. Everyone coming to the fair will see the Don Diego Clock Tower."

So, when fairgoers head to Del Mar this summer for the 2017 San Diego County Fair, the familiar, friendly face of Don Diego will be still be there silently saying, “Bienvenidos, Amigos.”

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