Historic, 55,000-square-foot Californian newspaper building could become apartments

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The character of downtown Bakersfield continues to change, bit by bit, building by building: Apartments and townhouses are moving in where retail and office used to be. The latest example: The Bakersfield Californian building, which until a few years ago, was the home of the daily newspaper for decades.

Harrell Holdings, which evolved from the company that owned the Bakersfield Californian newspaper for more than a century, is exploring the idea of turning its 800 square foot annex — the small brick building next to the Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce  — into an AirBnB, available for rentals of up to 13 days at a time. 

If that plan works out, Harrell Holdings will explore the possibility of adding one- and two-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors of the 95-year-old, 55,000-square foot, four-story structure. It would allow the leases of its commercial tenants, currently about 25, to phase out.

Gizel Bermudez, vice president of Harrell Holdings, said things are in the early planning stages.

“We’ve met with an architect and a planning company so we’re in the very early stages,” she said. “We’re thinking somewhere between the smallest space being 500 square feet up to about maybe about 1500 square feet.”

The idea has great promise — and a significant obstacle.

One the plus side, the timing is good. Residential development is taking off around the downtown area. Sage Properties, owner of Eastchester’s 17th Place Townhomes, is has a market-rate apartment building called the Cue taking shape at 18th and Q streets, and another Sage project, 918 at Eastchester, on the site of the old Bakersfield orphanage (and later the restaurant Sinaloa), is scheduled to start construction in the months ahead.

The old Greyhound bus terminal, also on 18th, is slated to become apartments at some point as well.

The presence of Bitwise Industries, a tech company and digital academy just across H Street from The Californian building, can’t hurt either.

But here’s the obstacle — the city currently prohibits short term rentals such as AirBnBs. Harrell Holdings would have to convince the city such a project makes sense at the Annex, which was built at the same time the newspaper’s main building was constructed — 1926 —  as a place for ladies to relax and cool off during shopping excursions in the Bakersfield heat.

Over the years, the newspaper’s editorial board and board of directors met in the annex, occasionally to interview candidates for governor or president.

Now, if the city allows it, it would serve a very different purpose. 

City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, whose ward includes downtown, tells 17 News he loves the idea, noting in a text message that in 2017  the city council established the goal of doubling the city’s downtown population by 2030.

It’s early in the process, so nothing is certain. But if the company can convince the city of its plan’s merit, who knows? This central business district of this place Where We Live will have a considerably different feel.

1707 Eye Street has character, it has history, it has location, and one of these days, if all goes according to plan, it could be a place to call home too.

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