BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Kern County has a rich history, spanning back hundreds of years. You see it every time you visit places like the Fox Theater, the Padre Hotel, or Pyrenees. Businesses and buildings built centuries ago.
But due to foreclosures, distant property owners and an ongoing rise in transient fires, we’re seeing a number of historic buildings in Bakersfield destroyed. Most recently the Trout’s building out in Oildale.
“I’m hoping all these people will realize these buildings represent the history of our city," said former president of the Bakersfield Historical Society Ken Hooper.
Ask any local and they can tell you about their memories at businesses like Amestoys on River Boulevard, Noriega’s on Sumner Street, and Sinaloa’s in Downtown Bakersfield. However now memories are all that remain where those structures once stood.
Bakersfield Fire Battalion Chief Brian Bowman says this is usually the result in buildings that have been here for hundreds of years left boarded up while the community awaits whats next. When a building is sold to an absentee owner, the likelyhood it will be improved and upgraded in small.
“You know the construction in those buildings was completely different a hundred years ago," Bowman said. "Those buildings when they really get going there's a lot of fire load in the building itself."
With more then 21 years under his belt, most of those at firehouse station 2 in Old Town Kern, he says the increase in abandoned structure fires has simply become expected.
“Trying to work with code enforcement, law enforcement, the city staff," he said. "Work with the property owners to ensure their boarded up, ensure that they’re secure, the properties are secure."
Just a few months ago, the building that was once home to the Guild House and The Old House pub — built in 1918 and located on Chester on 9th Street — went up in flames.
“That was a heartbreak," said Kern County Museum Director Mike McCoy.
He said the museum is doing everything they can to preserve local history, gathering remnants from local buildings no longer with us. Memories like the neon sign from Sinaloas, which was permanently closed in 2019 after 70 years. That same year another Bakersfield favorite — Amestoys on the Hill — closed it’s doors. Last year, after catching fire for a third time, the building was demolished.
“With Amestoy’s burning down, the other day I drove by the old Noriega Hotel, there’s memories there," McCoy said. "Like my family used to have dinner.
Hooper, a teacher at Bakerfield High School and head of the archiving program, spends his days buried in Bakersfield’s past. Right now he’s worried about the future of historical structures in the city, places like Sumner Station.
“It is the poster child right now of preservation," he said. "We need to find a valued purpose for it and luckily the City of Bakersfield is on board with that."
While the building on Chester and the Historic Sumner Station are still with us, Hooper hopes their historic significance will be made a priority before another tragic blaze takes a piece another piece of history.
“It’s part of our culture, a part of our community, and they deserve to be preserved and they deserve to be reused," he sai.
One solution Hooper says the city is considering is passing the Mills Act, an economic incentive program that would push property owners to maintain and preserve historic buildings by offering tax abatement.