One of the founding members of Cambria Historical Society, Wilfred Lyons once held the unofficial title of “Historian Emeritus” because he knew more about the history of Cambria than practically anybody. This is no surprise considering that he lived in Cambria for 97 years.
Wilfred’s grandfather worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania and he was developing black lung disease so he and his wife and five children sailed around Cape Horn to Gaviota and they settled in a small town in the Santa Ynez valley called Ballard. Wilfred’s father was born in Pennsylvania in 1872 and was a school teacher in Cayucos while his mother was born here in San Luis Obispo County in 1882.
Wilfred, one of four children, was born in Cambria in 1912 in the manse of the church on Bridge Street which is now The Bridge Street Inn. He graduated from Coast Union High School in 1931 and, in 1935, Wilfred married his wife, Hazel, and they moved to a small house at 2164 Center Street which later became Cambria Bicycle Outfitters and then Wise Owl & Co. Wilfred payed $2,000 for the seven year old house. They lived in that house for 29 years before they moved to the house on the west side of Bridge Street almost across the street from the house he was born in.
For most of his life Wilfred worked for his father in the Red and White Store located where The Sow’s Ear is today in a two story brick building owned by Senator Rigdon.
Otherwise, Wilfred said, there were only two places to work in the area and they were Hearst Castle and the Oceanic Mercury Mine. The elder Lyons bought the store in 1909 and sold it in 1948. In 1951 the building burned down. Wilfred remembered his father’s white truck which was used to haul merchandise from San Simeon wharf to the store. In the early days, Wilfred said, we had gas jets for lights and the store had a carbide plant in the back that manufactured the gas. Wilfred was a member of the local school board from 1944 to 1959 and was a member of the fire department for 33 years. He was a good friend of Paul and Louise Squibb who lived on Lee Street (now Burton Drive). He was also a friend of the Bianchini family who owned the house that is now the Cambria Historical Museum. In 2003, he remembered “…Jimmy, we’d call spider and Walter who we called weasel and Bill who was a World War I veteran and then Palmira and Elvira.” Palmira married Rocco Rava and moved into the “Blue House” next door to the Guthrie-Bianchini House.
Remembering the early days of the Cambria Pines Lodge, Wilfred said they had an arena in the center and on Saturday nights they built a bonfire there and had amateur acts and community singing organized by Robert Waltz who started The Cambrian. This was a major event in Cambria. Later they built log cabins around the perimeter and rented them out for a dollar and a half. Hazel died in 1994 and Wilfred passed away in 2009.