BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — In 1939 millions of Americans and thousands of Kern County residents were out of work. To the rescue came President Franklin D. Roosevelt who used dried Kern River mud, or adobe, to build the caretakers’ building at Hart Park.

The Works Progress Administration, launched in 1935, was one of the programs FDR started to put people to work during the Great Depression. The WPA built structures across the country and across the county – government offices, libraries, community centers, fire stations as well as The Fort in Taft, modeled after Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento.

The Hart Park caretaker’s residence has served several purposes over the years but after more than a decade of disuse there was talk of demolishing it. That talk ended when County Supervisor Mike Maggard teamed up with Bill Cooper of the Kern River Parkway and others  to develop funding  – and a plan – to preserve the 1,100-square foot structure.

But not just preserve it –  restore it under the very specific set of guidelines required for inclusion on the state historic registry and, potentially, the national historic registry. The plan – turn it into the Kern River Parkway’s Nature Center, where visitors can learn about the riparian habitat of the Kern River, the region’s prehistoric past – and the 85–year-old building itself.

Geoff Hill of the county’s General Services Department said the $1.2 million project went through some challenging hoops.

“When we took the approach to do the improvements to the building from the structural standpoint, as well as from an aesthetic or cosmetic or architectural standpoint,” he said, “we had to maintain fidelity to the original construction.”

How meticulous was the undertaking? They ground up the building’s literal bones. Workers took old adobe bricks from some of the inner walls, pulverized them into mortar and used the mix to help finish the building’s exterior.

Workers ran the bricks “through a sieve,” said Kenneth Hale of Ken Smith Construction. “I think a 200 mesh sieve. And just ground it through the sieve and turn it back into powder.”

Now that’s authenticity. Restoring the floors was another matter. The wood had been sanded so many times there wasn’t enough left to sand anymore.

“We had to source and purchase old growth Douglas fir material,” Hill said. “First of all we had to find it, purchase it and bring it in … and it matches exactly the flooring that was there.”

They found it at a mill in Oregon and it wasn’t cheap – $22,000. That goodness for local labor. Stephen Montgomery of the city’s historical commission is cleaning and restoring the house’s old door knobs and assorted hinges by hand.

It’s truly a community effort, with too many contributors to name here. 

The quarter acre out back will get a facelift too – it’ll become a garden of drought tolerant vegetation. While the adobe will be a tribute to the past, the backyard will be a nod to California’s dry, dry future. One of the few things not changing at all – the Hart Park peacocks.

“They’ve been a feature in this park since, I think, in the ‘40s,” Hill said. “There was a zoo here. And they just never left.”

The peacocks are invited to the grand opening. And so are the rest of us.

The date is not set for sure, but sometime May the Kern River Parkway’s Nature Center opens after a long, long wait.