Cambria’s Shamel Park rocked as seldom before on Independence Day, Friday, July 4, as Cambrians and visitors jammed the site to celebrate Independence Day and watch the spectacular, if lengthy, fireworks show at nightfall.
“By 7 p.m. you couldn’t find a vacant patch of grass large enough to sit on,” a spokesperson for American Legion Post No. 432 said. The Post sponsors the event.
Intermittent morning fog gave way to clear skies in the afternoon, enticing a steady stream of revelers to the park ahead of the fireworks.
Cambria seemed packed to the gills, traffic-wise. Some shops and restaurants reported a steady stream of business, with rushes at peak times, although business was down in other shops, especially in East Village, according to their owners. Motels were mostly filled Thursday night as representatives of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce tried to help latecomer visitors find local accommodations.
Tina Cleaveland said her Home Arts shop in West Village was busy all weekend, at least on par with last year, “which was our best in 19 years.” While Cleaveland hadn’t yet tallied the financials from the weekend by the time she talked to The Cambrian Monday, she said a “regular customer said she tried” to get into Home Arts on Saturday,” but found “there was a line out the door. So she left and came back later, on her way out of town.”
In terms of law enforcement and emergency services, the crowd remained mostly peaceful.
Likewise, Cambria Fire Department staffers said Monday, July 7, that the weekend had been “super mellow,” with officials only having to request that a handful of beach bonfires be extinguished because regulations ban the blazes. And Cambria Healthcare District officials said theirs was a relatively quiet weekend, with no calls on July 4.
At the Great Waiter and Waitress Relay Race, hopes that a Cambria team might win were dashed against the rocks, so to speak, when San Simeon Beach Bar & Grill continued its perennial domination of the event by a narrow margin of victory. “It’s not fair,” said a supporter of one of the eight losing teams. “They practiced.”
Estimating total attendance was complicated by crowd turnover during the day. One reliable indicator was that Sons of the American Legion chefs, who provided barbecue food, ran out of hamburgers with hours to go.
The legion’s immediate past commander, Brian Griffin, emceed the opening ceremonies that included an honor guard raising the Stars and Stripes, Mark O’Bryan singing the National Anthem, Greg Sanders reading the Declaration of Independence, and Mike Thompson reading the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
Cambrian Editor Bert Etling accepted an achievement award in recognition of The Cambrian newspaper’s support of Legion activities during the year, including Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Independence Day events. Etling quoted Thomas Jefferson’s remarks, made in 1787, about the importance of newspapers to American democracy: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
After that it was a full day of family fun, food, and live music that evidenced months of planning by Legion officials.
In the waiter and waitress race, “it was a close call,” admitted Fidel Figueroa, manager of the race winners. He calculated that the San Simeon team has won the event a total of 14 times. Luis Gonzalez, Hector Mendoza, Henry Franco, and Gustavo Beltram comprised the winning quartet.
Sea Chest Restaurant & Oyster Bar and La Terraza, a newcomer to the Cambria restaurant scene, finished a close second and third, respectively.
Cambrians captured both door prizes: Cindy Steidel (an Apple iPad Air) and Terry Farrell ($1,000).
Acting Commander of Post No. 432 Karina Tiwana thanked Cambrians for turning out in large numbers. “I’m so proud to be at this event with the American Legion family and wonderful community supporters,” she said. Financial officer Ron Waltman said that any profits from the event will help fulfill charity pledges for the rest of the year and ensure that the fireworks show continues next year.
Legion members returned to Shamel Park on Saturday, July 5 to disassemble serving booths. Parents joined with Troop No. 217 Boy Scouts and Pack No. 217 Cub Scouts to remove 87 pounds of debris from the beach. By noon Saturday, scant evidence remained of another memorable Cambria event staged entirely by community volunteers.
Cambrian reporter Kathe Tanner contributed to this article.