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



When 23-year-old Frances Cloyd was crowned Mrs. America in 1949, she confessed, “There is no such thing as an unmarried beauty. It’s probably just good scientific sense and I know it happened to me – all those female curves and lines never really get assembled until after marriage.” The beautiful young mother of three married Arthur Cloyd, Jr. when she was 18. Her youngest child, Patricia, was only seven weeks old when mommy won the national title.

In addition to being judged on appearance, contestants in the Mrs. America pageant were also tested on homemaking skills. Mrs. Cloyd returned to San Diego and settled in Clairemont in the 1950s to raise her family.

Kristen Mary Houghton attended Longfellow Elementary School, Marston Junior High School and graduated from Clairemont High School in 1973. She was identified in her senior yearbook as a “Spirited Chieftain” cheerleader and went on to become an airline stewardess. She married in 1978 and, the following year, celebrated her first Mother’s Day holding one-month-old daughter, Kimberly Noel.

Kristen would have two more daughters, Kourtney and Khloé, and son, Robert, Jr., with her first husband, attorney Robert Kardashian. Were you aware this celebrity mother had Clairemont roots? In a 2012 interview with Clairemont High School Arrow newspaper reporter Breanna Edwards, she said her dreams at graduation were about motherhood.


Realistically, Clairemont mothers didn’t dream about celebrity, about becoming Mrs. America or about opening their mansions to a television audience back in the 1950s. Their primary focus was to maintain a safe and clean home environment for their families. It was a mother’s responsibility to feed, dress and set standards of conduct on their offspring.

My mother had one rule: “Stay out of the pool hall.” Left unsaid was, “Stay out of trouble.”

Her birth name was “Stella,” but, as a young woman, she changed it to “Estelle” to project gravitas. Her name wasn’t changed legally in court; she just did it. Life was simpler in those days and she simply wanted to be taken serious.

When the family barn burned in 1924, my mother and her siblings were farmed out. On her own at age 12, she worked as a governess for prosperous families in Minnesota. Unable to complete the ninth grade, she often said, “I’ve died a thousand deaths because of my lack of education.” When she grew up, she wanted to become a mother and education would be a top priority for her children.

At a young age, she learned to save and carefully spend for essentials. After her death in 1983, I found her old W-2 forms. My parents divorced in 1952, so she had to work to support two young sons. I didn’t know we were poor, only that there wasn’t very much money. In 1953, we survived on $1,739.70 in child support and her meager earnings.

We moved to San Diego in 1955. My mother was disabled by polio in 1949 and wore a full body brace for the remainder of her life. The mother of one of my high school friends worked for the state department of disability. She said they could help my mother, but Mom was a Midwestern Republican who didn’t want to be on welfare. She never complained; stoically, she would just soldier on.

I finally convinced her to talk to the people at the disability office. She was tested and the state enrolled her in Kelsey-Jenney Business School. After graduation, she got a job at Convair. She earned $2,833.25 in 1957 and we were able to move from a Pacific Beach trailer park into the Buena Vista Apartments in Clairemont. It was the high-point of her life when her sons graduated from Mission Bay High School and later San Diego State College.

In retirement, motivated to help others, she volunteered at the Downtown Senior Center. She travelled by city bus, because it gave her independence.  When cancer claimed her at age 70, she still lived modestly in the same apartment she first rented in 1957. All her life, she denied herself the personal pleasures she couldn’t afford. Her outlook remained positive until the oncologist explained her cancer had metastasized to the liver.

Then she did something that shocked me. She gave up and she went fast.

This woman never betrayed weakness. In a crisis, she was always clear-headed and resolute. The world never saw her cry, but I did… and she did it alone.

She wasn’t Mrs. America or a TV celeb, but she was the inspiration of my life… unselfish, humble, incredibly clever and creative. I was always motivated to make her proud. She is my moral compass. When I do something nice for others, I think of my mother.

I love you, Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day.


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