BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It’s Bakersfield’s little slice of Disneyland right here on Chester Avenue. It’s the Big Shoe, and it’s been here now for 75 years.
There is not an old lady who lives there but there is an old man who works there. He has dozens of repair jobs but he knows what to do. He’ll give them some stitching, he’ll give them some glue, he’ll expertly fix them, then give an interview.
Jokingly, owner Felipe Torres said the old lady used to occupy The Big Shoe but she could not afford to pay for it anymore.
“I feel proud to be here since I came to Bakersfield,” Torres said. “I always saw the shoe and thought, ‘Wow, what a shop.’ And now I’m here.”
While he’s not that old, there is a little more gray in his beard than when Torres reopened the unusual landmark years ago. The oddity was built at 10th and Chester in 1947 by Chester Deschwanden and operated by his son Donald Deschwanden for 40 years, until Donald’s death. It was vacant for 10 years, unclaimed shoes piled against the front windows, about where the big toe would be, until Salomon Olvera bought it and brought in Torres – an experienced cobbler – to run the place.
The Big Shoe does much more than just shoe repairs. Torres said he repairs anything with stitches and leather, which includes purses, jackets, suitcases and even dog collars.
The shop, 25 feet tall at its peak and 32 feet long – making it roughly a size 768 – rests on a black sole over a reddish base. Three-inch-thick ropes, painted black, serve as its shoelaces.
The Shoe has a semi-glorious history in commercial advertising. In 1989, the building was used in a national campaign promoting DuPont carpeting, and it has turned up in U.S. News and World Report, Time, Newsweek, Fortune, People, Smithsonian magazine, Architectural Digest, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, among other publications. It’s been on broadcast networks and in books about unusual buildings.
“I have customers from all over… Kern County… all the way to Fresno.. I have two customers from Texas … and I have one customer from Oregon,” Torres told 17 News.
The customers from Fresno and Texas have family here and when they visit they take their shoes to The Big Shoe Repair, Torres said. The customer in Oregon used to live here and still sends his shoes in by mail.
Torres shared that around Christmas time Big Shoe Repair is busy because customers are getting their shoes and jackets ready for work parties and other occasions.
Torres said the shoe is about 380-square-feet. The shoe laces are made up of a 50-feet length rope, according to the website.
The Big Shoe has itself needed repairs over the years. It required a new coat of polish after someone added an unauthorized Nike “swoosh,” and more serious work after a driver veered off Chester Avenue and took a gouge out of its side. But through it all, the Big Shoe has maintained its dignity. To the extent a giant shoe can appear dignified. The building’s shoelaces were replaced about four years ago, Torres shared. They were replaced with rope from a marina.
Torres compared the shoe building’s repairs to the shoes that he fixes. Torres said “they [shoes] need to be cleaned up, conditioned and polishing to make it look good,” and so does the building.
Unsurprisingly, Torres said he does have a lot of customers and a lot of people visit the Big Shoe to take pictures and other touristic purposes.
Felipe Torres has been here for 20 of the 75 years that the Big Shoe has been here on Chester Avenue and he’s not leaving anytime soon. He says any old shoe can always be repaired.
“Whenever they [customers] need shoe repair or whatever item … don’t throw it away if they like it bring it and I let them know if it’s fixable … because a lot of people don’t know that the shoes or jackets or items … can be fixed,” Torres said.