The July 3rd fireworks in Richmond this year were indeed a nice occasion.
July 3? The City of Richmond has had the happy thought of not directly competing with other local municipal celebrations—especially the extravaganza off San Francisco’s Embarcadero—but staging fireworks on what might be called Independence Day Eve.
It provides a pleasant diversion before a one-day holiday, and if you’re really a fireworks fanatic you can go twice—to Richmond on the 3rd, then somewhere else on the 4th
Over the years we’ve watched the Richmond fireworks from the home of friends in Marina Bay, from the Marina Bay Park at the waterfront, and from Point Isabel Regional Shoreline.
This year, other friends suggested going to the Craneway celebration. What’s that? It turns out to be an indoor concert by the Oakland East Bay Symphony, and other groups, followed by spectacular viewing of the fireworks.
And it’s free.
The south, harbor side, end of an enormous brick, steel and glass structure—built in 1932 as a Ford assembly plant for the Model A—has been turned into a huge multipurpose pavilion, glass walled on three sides. Since it projects out into the Bay, you look directly across at the skyline of San Francisco, or back to the southeast at Albany Hill and Berkeley.
Inside, thousands of chairs had been set up in banks facing a raised stage for the performers. Food vendor booths and informational tables dotted the perimeter. We arrived before 7:00 and there was a crowd already, but still plenty of seats, as well as parking ($10 per vehicle) in lots along the approach road. Spectators continued to stream in for the next two hours until the building and the surrounding outdoor spaces seemed entirely filled.
The Oaktown Jazz Workshop—a group of very talented young performers—was holding forth on the stage when we arrived. At 8:00 the Oakland East Bay Symphony had assembled, and surged into the National Anthem while the crowd rose and sang along.
A series of mid-century musical pieces followed, recalling the era when the building was part of the vast shipyard and war production industry in World War II. Christabel Nunoo, a talented 17-year-old soprano from the Young Musicians Program at Cal soloed beautifully on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “Rosie the Riveter”, and “Lili Marlene”, and much of the audience enthusiastically sang along on “Oklahoma!” and a medley from the Sound of Music.
Then, during an intermission, many of those inside pressed from the comfortable interior outside into the stiff wind to await the fireworks. A huge yellow full moon was rising over Berkeley and the flag and light-festooned superstructure of the World War II transport, Red Oak Victory, gleamed across the harbor approaches in the other direction.
The fireworks, set off from the shore just to the east of the Pavilion, were magnificently large and loud, counterpointed by the Symphony playing six John Philip Sousa marches in the background. As the crowd filtered back inside the music switched to a “Wizard of Oz” medley, another sing-along moment.
It took a while to get out of the parking lot, but the approach road is a direct line back to 580 and right to Berkeley.
If you go in future years:
The Craneway Pavilion is at 1414 Harbor Way South in Richmond. Take 580 to the Harbor Way south exit and drive to the end of Harbor Way South. The Pavilion is at the far end of the huge, beige-brown, brick building on your left. There’s parking along the street, and also, for a fee, in adjacent lots. It’s probably wise to go early to get good parking.
Things to bring: warm clothing (the building interior is comfortable, especially packed with thousands, but expect a stiff, chilly, breeze off the Bay outside); food and drink (some is for sale, but reached only by long lines); a blanket and portable seats, if you like (there are many chairs provided, but lots of spectators set up camp on open areas of the concrete floor), possibly a flashlight, if you end up parked far away.
If you come early and the fog isn’t in, there are incredible early evening views across the Bay from the areas around the end of the building. And there’s an adjacent visitor center for the Rosie the Riveter Home Front National Historic Park.
Watch the websites of the Oakland East Bay Symphony, the City of Richmond, and the Craneway Pavilion for announcements of this event in future years.