BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Happy 80th birthday, almost to the day, to the Fairfax Grange, completed in 1943. What, you may ask, is a grange?
It’s a remnant of 19th-century Americana, a living reminder of another time, another way of life.
Granges were rural social clubs of a sort – first organized in Minnesota in 1867 by the Patrons of Husbandry. The idea was to advance agricultural innovation and cooperation as well as promote the social and economic needs of farmers.
Granges took off in popularity after the financial crisis of 1873 when falling crop prices and rising shipping costs devastated farmers’ livelihoods and prompted them to unite for the common good.
The Fairfax Grange organization was formed in 1934 and the actual hall opened nine years later. John Harrer is the grange master of Grange 570.
“The walls are knotty pine and the floor is maple and they got it built in 1943,” he said. “(1943) was their inaugural event.”
You might say the Fairfax Grange has always been a destination getaway.
“Out here, it (was) the east end of Brundage Lane in the 1940s,” Harrer said. “It was amazing that – I don’t think – Brundage went farther than this.”
Interest in the Grange as a social gathering place tailed off in the 1980s, but one of Bakersfield’s favorite entertainers helped bring it back.
“In the 1990s, late 90s, they had a dance here every Saturday night,” Harrer said. “Red Simpson played two nights a month from June to August.”
The cover charge was $3. Harrer isn’t even sure Red got paid. The place went quiet for a long time; one of the few ongoing activities was dance lessons.
Paul and Irene Leung say the Grange is different from other dance venues for one very important reason.
“This is the best floor in town,” Paul Leung said. “So it makes it really nice on the old knee.”
“It has a suspended floor so it’s easy on our feet,” his wife clarified. “So we just love to come here to dance.”
But the weekend community hoe-down faded away. For a long time, the Fairfax Grange hosted dance lessons and little else. That is, until Zane Adamo, fiddle player for the country band the Soda Crackers, made a pitch: Let’s have regular dances again.
“Zane came to us with this idea,” Harrer said, “and we filled the place up. There were over 100 people here on that Friday night.
Adamo hosted another dance in October and it was an even bigger success.
“There were 150 people inside the Grange,” Harrer said. “It was pretty amazing to see the place that full again. It had probably been decades since we’ve had that many people here.
Suddenly Grange organizers are filled with hope over a new, much-needed revenue stream.
“After two years of Covid and no money, the building had really taken a hit,” Harrer said. “So the first order of business is to repair the roof. We have a couple of leaks in the roof and if it leaks and it gets on the wooden floor, then that’s gone, so our first priority is to get the roof fixed. … and then next year it’s the exterior.”
The Grange’s unlikely comeback continues Friday, Nov. 3, with Tony Ernst and the Desert Moon Band.
Do you want to support this historic treasure? Keep your eyes out for their dances. That’s the best way to keep this place alive.