One of our favorite things to do as we are charged with the task of preserving and presenting the fascinating history of Cambria and the surrounding areas of the Central Coast is delving into recorded documents.
Even more interesting is gathering anecdotal history, the stories people tell. In July, we had a full house to hear Recollections of the Fifties from local rancher Bob Soto. Bob regaled us with tales of our little town of 800 where he grew up. At the time, there were only about five structures in West Village known as Cambria Pines by the Sea, which was so called by the unsuccessful developers of Park and Happy Hills.
Previously, Bob published a book full of family and California history, back to the 1775 de Anza expedition. We have that book available in our store, as well as some by his wife, Debbie Fiscalini Soto. Today, Aug. 2, we are again sold out for a fascinating talk about San Simeon by Dr. Dan Krieger, Tribune historical columnist and retired Cal Poly history professor.
As a perquisite, Cambrian Historical Society members are always admitted free to our monthly Speaker Series as we gather at 5:30 for hors d’ oeuvres and beverages; but the public is graciously invited for a $10 fee applicable to a family membership good for entry to hear all our speakers. Members receive early notification as well as free admission, so please consider joining at this time and be able to join the fun! Applications are available at the museum as well as online.
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Speaking of anecdotes, we are also compiling little photo series from times past, based on many photos from the Historical Society archives, The Cambrian archives and from former Cambrian Doug Depue. They provide us with vignettes that are little known to present-day residents. As you celebrated the Fourth of July at Shamel Park, did you know that was the county park that was renamed for realtor Ray Shamel in the early 1970s?
Did you know we also had a “Cambria City Park” on Main Street in east village? Now, there’s a tale to tell! Cambria had had a major fire in the three-story Proctor Hotel on the corner of Bridge and Main in 1889, which wiped out the three blocks of businesses in wooden structures that comprised early day Cambria.
After reconstruction came the Rigdon Building, a two-story edifice that housed Lyons’ Red and White Store, meeting rooms upstairs and rooms for rent. It stood between Camozzi’s Saloon and Soto’s Grocery Store; in 1951, a fire there demolished the wooden structure, but the local fire department saved the two adjacent businesses. The empty property languished for about 20 years, and was filled with shrubs and plants and a picket fence.
Locals took advantage of the green space there to relax and visit with neighbors. Rocco Rava, who had a business on Main and lived with his wife, Elvira Bianchini, in the Blue Maggetti House (which is now owned by the Historical Society), is seen in an old photo visiting with Gus Cosso. Another photo shows a group of folks yet to be identified, comfortably ensconced on nice benches installed beneath a fine but unofficial sign.
The benches replaced the early milk crates borrowed from the market, according to Karen Soto Snow, who reminisced with rancher/historian Dawn Dunlap, archivist/researcher Melody Coe and me. Carol Soto Lowry ultimately built the Café Porta Via on the site in the 1980s, and later Mike DeGarrimore owned the Finicky Fish there before moving on to Morro Bay. Barbara Pierce was the next owner of the present-day Sow’s Ear, which is currently owned by chefs Salvador Garcia and Tony Guiterrez.
We welcome your stories and photos, especially with identification and dates. We are having lots of fun with “recent memories” from residents who have lived in Cambria during the years when our sleepy little village segued into the present thriving destination, since the Hearst “Castle” opened and both highways were expanded.
Located at 2251 Center St. at Burton Drive, the museum and book store are staffed by volunteers from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday-Sunday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday; the heirloom gardens and backyard nursery are open all day every day. Phone: 805-927-2891. Go to cambriahistoricalsociety.com and like us at facebook.com/cambriahistoricalsociety.