BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Sometimes the neighborhoods that have the most challenges also have the most promise. That’s very much the case in Old Town Kern, home of some of Bakersfield’s best-known restaurants.
There’s a Jekyll and Hyde aspect to Old Town Kern, Bakersfield’s historic second downtown east of Union Avenue. This area, whose main drag is Baker Street, started to slide in the 1960s and never really recovered.
But, despite the poverty, homelessness and drug use that has marred its image over the years, it has retained at least one great asset — its noteworthy restaurants, Basque, but also Italian, Mexican and others, through the years.
For years, the city has tried to change the fortunes of Old Town Kern, give it new purpose. With some success, to be sure.
Now a new effort is underway — sponsored by The Hub of Bakersfield, a local nonprofit focused on revitalizing the city’s urban core.
The Hub’s latest effort — an online petition at Change.org that asks the Bakersfield City Council to consider new funding for improved urban infrastructure and streetscaping — better sidewalks, lighting, trees, shrubs, and crosswalks that might bring new businesses to Old Town Kern — providing jobs, enhancing the tax base. The sort of attention that transformed blighted sections of cities like Cincinnati and New Orleans into tourist meccas.
Ward 2 Councilman Andrae Gonzales is behind the local effort.
“Basically, the petition is asking City hall and the full City Council to provide Old Town Kern in the upcoming fiscal year budget to do so in a very tangible way,: he said, “with significant dollars allocated for redevelopment of Old Town Kern.”
Gino Valpredo, whose family has owned Luigi’s, the 100-year-old institution a block off Baker, says the city needs to reinvest in the area.
“This was the hub,” Valpredo said. “This was Bakersfield when this place first started. Train tracks went through here, every business, everybody that lived around here, everybody knew each other and there were theaters and restaurants, and everything that you needed to do was in walking distance.”
Graphic designer and Hub member Shannon LaBare said, to a great extent, the outside world has already discovered Old Town Kern.
“The people from outside saw how cool Old Town Kern was and constantly supported it,” she said, “and while, yes, it’s busy most of the time down here for your lunches, what can we do to make that happen more?”
Lest people assume The Hub is a millennials-only kinda thing, 93-year-old Jim Elder, who recently sold Sequoia Paint on Baker Street, is also a supporter of the effort.
“You can just see it in the air,” he said. “They will get this place going.”
The Hub’s petition drive already had 1,300 signatures as of Friday morning. It’s at change.org — search for Old Town Kern.