Firefighters’ Historical Society, gifted a building for its long-planned museum, delivers gratitude — and a commemorative helmet — to benefactor

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The building at the corner of G and 20th streets is not exactly one of Bakersfield’s architectural gems. But miracles do happen — as in Miracle Auto Paint and Body Shop, which is what that cavernous structure was in a previous life.

Look at what it will become in its next life: a firefighting museum, community resource center and rooftop restaurant developed by the Bakersfield Firefighters Historical Society — and all it’s being made possible by the generosity of one woman.

Peggy Cole Darling bought this building in 1997  but she didn’t buy it so she could paint cars. She did it so she could make this place Where We Live a better place to live.

Members of the Society paid her a visit Monday afternoon to present her with a token of their esteem — a firefighters’s helmet.

Darling said she wanted the gifted building to — in some way — serve the Majestic Fox Theatre — located right across the alley — and the building has done so, serving as much needed warehouse space for the Fox as well as its green room — a place for entertainers to relax before they take the stage.

Now, Darling has gifted the structure to the Bakersfield Firefighters Historical Society — which plans on turning it into a museum that will exhibit artifacts from local firefighting history — old fire wagons, equipment, protective gear, photographs and more. Plus — it will serve as a banquet facility and a place for education hosted by the Bakersfield Firefighters Burn Foundation. It’ll have a 9/11 Education Center.

Darling’s son David Cole said he discussed the museum idea with members of the Historical Society a few times before that most crucial issue came up.

“Somebody finally raised the issue,” he said. “What do you want (for compensation)? And of course mom was gonna donate it as a charity — and I loved the looks on (the firefighters’) faces. No, there’s no rent. It’s yours. We’re gonna deed it to you.”

It’s hard to not have a respect for firefighting history when your headquarters, Fire Station 1, a block north of the Miracle building, is a historical piece itself, having been built in 1939 by FDR’s Public Works Administration.

Darling, who is 94, has just one major stipulation attached to her gift. It must continue to serve the needs of the Fox Theater — whether it be warehouse space, green room availability or overflow parking.

Members of the Historical Society said they hope to have the museum complex up and running in three to five years.

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