Friday, June 12, 2009

At The Fair



Just south of here, at the foot of the San Dieguito River and just inland from the Pacific Ocean there's a large tract of land that hosts the Del Mar race track and county fairgrounds. The first fair was held in 1936, then suspended for the duration of World War II. During the suspension, Marines from Camp Pendleton were housed there and trained on the nearby beaches and paratroopers bunked in the horse stalls. After the troops shipped out, an assembly line for B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber parts operated until 1944.

The glory years of the Fair, 1946-1984, are known as the Don Diego Years. That was when a young Spanish actor, Tom Hernandez, brought the character of Don Diego to life. Modeled after an actual late 1800s Del Mar land grant owner, Don Diego Alvarado, known for his lavish parties and gracious hospitality, Tom Hernandez as Don Diego became the dearly loved living symbol of Del Mar. His image appeared on all the promotional material for the fair and he and the current "Fairest Of The Fair" would stroll the grounds in costume every day, arm in arm, greeting fairgoers and posing for pictures. The Fairest Of The Fair was chosen from the winners of all the county beauty pageants, with the winner going on to vie for Miss California and eventually Miss America. The 1958 Fairest of The Fair was a young La Jolla woman named Raquel Tejada, later better known as Raquel Welch.

At the time, the role of Don Diego was the longest running role in show business. Tom Hernandez as Don Diego was the image of the fair for 37 years. After his untimely death in 1984, a 16 foot bronze statue was erected at the entrance to the grounds, in his honor. Even after 25 years, the fair has never been the same without him.

My sister took his picture in 1974, above. The picture below is an aerial view of the fairgrounds and race track, looking north along the coast.


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Meet me at Don Diego tower" was the byword for all kids attending the Fair if they got separated from their parents. There is an old photo featuring a 17-year-old Senorita Tejada (a La Jolla girl and Fairest of the Fair that particular year) and Senor Hernandez, displayed around town in places with historical photos (e.g. L'Auberge Hotel), that reveals a glimpse of the 'star power' she ultimately was to achieve -- a truly natural beauty.

Anonymous said...

The aerial photo graphically demonstrates the Racetrack's motto: Where the Turf meets the Surf.

High Desert Diva said...

Such history...