By Shawn Raymundo and C. Jayden Smith
For the first time in quite a while, an American flag is flying at the end of the pier—where it will remain a permanent fixture now that new lighting has been installed to illuminate the Red, White & Blue after the sun sets on San Clemente.
“The lighting will go on at dusk and go off at sunrise, so the flag will not be lowered and (will) always fly across from the Snack Shack,” explained Eileen Kawas, the past president of the nonprofit PierPride Foundation.
Officials with PierPride and the San Clemente Sunrise Rotary, which sponsored the installation of the light fixture, gathered at the San Clemente Pier alongside city representatives, dignitaries and other local groups for an unveiling ceremony Wednesday evening, Feb. 23.
Wednesday night’s ceremony received a significant turnout from the community, as Rotarians, singers from San Clemente High School’s choir group, the Madrigals, and other citizens were also present.
The new lighting comes roughly 32 months since San Clemente teen Liam Hallinan renovated the flagpole. As part of his Eagle Scout project in June 2019, Hallinan, then 15 years old, worked with the city’s contractor to erect the new flagpole opposite the concession stand.
Since then, though, the flagpole has seldom been used to let the American flag fly, as SC Times columnist Fred Swegles reported in a November 2019 column.
For a short while, the previous operator of the pier’s Snack Shack did the honors of raising the flag. However, he later moved to Texas, handing operations over to the current tenant, who was reportedly unable to take on the task of hoisting the flag daily.
Some alternatives had been floated around that time, such as a suggestion to have the city’s lifeguards or maintenance staff raise and lower the flag. The city, though, opted not to go that route, with Samantha Wylie, the city’s parks and recreation manager, explaining that lifeguards already fly the American flag atop their tower on the pier.
In December 2019, the city began flying its flag at the renovated flag pole at the end of the pier
Another suggestion was to attach lighting to or around the pole so the American flag could fly 24/7. A section of U.S. code stipulates that the American flag could be flown 24 hours a day, “if properly illuminated during hours of darkness.”
“That was the problem before; we didn’t have lighting,” Kawas said. “(The flag) would have to go up and then be taken down before nightfall.”
That was until the Sunrise Rotary stepped in to sponsor the project, along with Gary Keller, a local resident and president of South Coast Lighting and Design, who gifted the light fixture, Kawas explained.
“It all came together beautifully,” Kawas said, later highlighting the Rotary’s goal to “shine a light through the night and let this be a beacon for all.”
“I think what Sunrise Rotary wants and what PierPride wants is again that beacon of hope, that promise in the night,” Kawas added. “That there is hope and promise that represents all of us; maybe brings us closer together; unity and focus during these times.”
Noting the group’s ability and commitment to give back to the community, Sunrise Rotary President Sally Guon said the club wanted to step up and sponsor the project after hearing that this was among the top requests from PierPride and pier visitors.
Sunrise, she said, got involved about last July after club members voted unanimously to partner with PierPride for the project.
“To see the American flag wave throughout the night is a symbolic beacon of hope that brings us all together,” Guon said.
Mayor Gene James on Wednesday hailed Hallinan’s efforts to fly Old Glory at the end of the pier, and presented the Eagle Scout with a Challenge Coin, which is meant for “individuals who have shown excellence.”
Hallinan similarly returned the favor by presenting James with the American flag that had initially flown on the flagpole back in 2019.
During Wednesday evening’s ceremony, which also coincided with World Rotary Day, James handed out proclamations to members of the two local Rotaries—Guon of the Sunrise Rotary and Tyler Boden of the San Clemente Rotary Club.
James also said that the combination of the two Rotaries coming together with a local Eagle Scout to serve the city was “typical” of San Clemente’s nature.
“I just want to congratulate everyone for doing it, and (say) thank you to everyone for being here,” he said. “I look forward to that illumination of Old Glory.”
After the ceremony, Hallinan reflected on his disappointment when he initially learned in early July 2019 that the flag would have to be taken down, and how he wondered whether the effort he put into erecting the new pole would ever come to fruition.
He added that he was grateful for the way the lighting eventually transpired.
“It’s really amazing to finally get some (closure) on this and to see everything come full circle as I had originally intended this flagpole to go up,” Hallinan said.
Having the support of the community behind him throughout the process made the moment that much sweeter.
The event, Kawas explained this week, was also meant to serve as the official kickoff for the planned renovations of the Snack Shack. The project, which, according to Kawas, is expected to be completed by Memorial Day, includes enhancements to the concession stand and the outdoor seating area.
“We’ve got public art, a counter with six barstools. We’ll have new picnic tables with games on top,” she said. “There will be a new weathervane put on top of the Snack Shack, and it will be a sister piece that we put on the restrooms last year. It’s a very exciting time.”
Shawn Raymundo is the managing editor for Picket Fence Media. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.