BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Ever seen a ghost? You may say no, but if you’ve driven through downtown Bakersfield, you’ve gone right past one, right there on Chester Avenue.
Consider the four-story Hopkins building, a skyscraper by Bakersfield’s modest standards. But here’s the asterisk. The top three stories are empty, deserted – an office building frozen in time, a Twilight Zone snapshot of the way it looked in the summer of 1952.
The Kern County Earthquake — actually a series of earthquakes and major aftershocks that started 70 years ago Thursday – roiled the area for 33 days. Those seismic eruptions destroyed some buildings and damaged others so significantly they had to be razed. Many survived nearly intact. And then, somewhere in between those fates, there is the Hopkins building – not damaged enough to require demolition but not safe enough to occupy.
And so it remains, a silent commemoration of the earthquake that changed Bakersfield’s downtown forever. Ground floor businesses are open, but upstairs an eerie, dusty silence pervades – the decaled glass doors communicating a forgotten past – an advertising agency, a dentist’s office, a law firm – including the offices of attorney Jess Dorsey, the former Kern County District Attorney and State Senator who 30 years before famously smashed the local Ku Klux Klan.
Close your eyes and you can still hear the building’s ringing phones, chattering typewriter keys, muffled conversations.
Much of the city changed during those 33 days between July 21st and August 22nd, when the aftershock we think of as the Bakersfield earthquake wrought its violence.
But, as the Hopkins building reminds us, some things – give or take a little peeling wallpaper – are precisely the same.
For more watch Robert Price’s special report airing Thursday at 7:30 p.m.