Clairemont Family Day

Bill Swank outside the Buena Vista Garden Apartments on Cowley Way in 1955 with East Clairemont in the distance.

By Bill Swank

In August 1956, Carole Gribbons McDowell was runner-up in the first Miss Clairemont contest held during the Flowers ‘N Fun Fair at the Clairemont Community Center. When interviewed at the time for a Clairemont Sentinel article, Carole explained, “I’ve never been in a contest before. Guess I’m really a homebody. I like to cook and keep house. I like to take my little brothers to the park. I’d like to have about six children of my own.”

Carole Gribbons McDowell holds 1956 Miss Clairemont article and photograph. Photos by Bill Swank
Carole Gribbons McDowell holds 1956 Miss Clairemont article and photograph. Photos by Bill Swank

A good Catholic girl, Carole graduated from Mission Bay High School, married young and gave birth to one daughter and five sons. Her South Clairemont home and yard are immaculate. The cheerful homebody loves dogs, the Chargers and Clairemont Family Day. She will attend this year’s event (August 1, 2015), so stop by the Clairemont Times “Squaremont” cubicle to visit the former beauty queen.

Clairemont Family Day started as “a small art show open house format” in 1990 and now occupies every square inch of South Clairemont Park. With the addition of more booths and attractions, the event slowly gained traction to become the signature community festival we enjoy today.

Angel Castro grew up in Clairemont. As a child, she remembers participating in all of the activities at the South Clairemont Rec. Later, as a young recreation leader during the early years of Clairemont Family Day, she can look back and reminisce, “They were like the 4th of July celebrations when families would take a picnic to the park and enjoy all of the activities.”

Castro also recalls the enthusiastic participation of local merchants. “The Same Old Grind always provided gift certificates for promotional purposes. One year, Hal’s Bike at the Quad (Clairemont Village) donated a Schwinn which was auctioned as a fund raiser. The Clairemont/Sunset Bowl could be counted on to promote community projects.” She also credits the Clairemont Art Guild and Clairemont Women’s Club for their support.

The South Clairemont Recreation Council underwrites a free day of swimming at the community pool. Pool Manager III Mark Ross confirmed it is one of the busiest days of the year at the South Clairemont Pool.

For several years, The Sons of the American Revolution have provided a patriotic color guard with the participants dressed in period uniforms of the Continental Army.

“I like to watch the little girls dancing on stage,” said Holly Pierce, wife of recreation center council president, Chris Pierce. The tiny troupers are among the most popular attractions at the event. Proud parents and grandparents are well represented in the audience.

Live bands have always been integral to the program. How many remember Gila Monster and the Cool Rays from the 1990s? The Fabulous Dan Band from the early 2000s? The late Danny Williams was lead singer and also played guitar and harmonica. Let’s not forget The Sophisticats, The Visions, The Silver Sounds, Para Ti, Point Blank and The Moondawgs.

The Clairemont Neighborhood Cruisers created “Park in the Park” in 2001. The Cruisers specialize in the collection, restoration, preservation and customization of pre-1976 automobiles and trucks. They bill their display as “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Located on the grass along Waco Street, this crowd-pleasing exhibit has become a major feature of Clairemont Family Day.

Cheerleaders from Clairemont and Madison High School add a homecoming, pep rally spirit to Family Day. There are demonstrations of Tai Chi moving meditation and free pony rides sponsored by the Clairemont Chamber of Commerce.

(Am I the only little boy who cried the first time he rode on a pony?)

The Clairemont Hills Kiwanis pancake breakfast has long been a tradition during Family Day. Richie Morris estimates over 1,000 pancakes get flipped every year. In the future, the Kiwanis might sponsor a pancake eating contest similar to Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog eating contest held annually at Coney Island in New York.

The huge carnival ride and game zone for the kids complements a wide array of vendors and food for public consumption. This is Clairemont’s biggest celebration of the year. Recreation Center Council President Chris Pierce states with pride, “We enjoy putting on one big event that everyone can enjoy.”

South Clairemont Recreation Council president Chris Pierce with Family Day photos and Clairemont Family Day mural at the South Clairemont Recreation Center
South Clairemont Recreation Council president Chris Pierce with Family Day photos and Clairemont Family Day mural at the South Clairemont Recreation Center

Tia Turner has returned as the newly appointed Recreation Director II at the South Clairemont Recreation Center. Like Angela Castro, she too recalls the excitement of Clairemont Family Day when she was a young rec leader. Now, she and the recreation council face the challenge to perpetuate the magic. It is only through the efforts of involved citizens and donations that this beloved summer celebration will continue.

For more information on Clairemont Family Day Visit


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