In the early 1900s, Bakersfield was growing up. In 1910, the Lakeview Gusher near Maricopa, the largest recorded oil strike in U.S. history, brought international attention to Kern County. The climate and soil of the San Joaquin Valley was pulling ranchers and farmers into the county. Downtown Bakersfield was experiencing a burst in construction as new money flowed into the city.
Bakersfield was growing up, and the city needed a college.
The 1907 Upward Extension Act gave local high schools in California permission to provide the first two years of university instruction. Talk of creating a junior college in Bakersfield first arose in 1911 when the old Kern County Court House, which was built in 1896 on Truxtun and Chester avenues, was to be replaced by a modern courthouse built across the street.
The Bakersfield Californian editorial on Aug. 18, 1911 advocated for the old courthouse to be sold to the City of Bakersfield for use as a city hall instead of new college campus. The need for a consolidated "civic center" near the newly constructed Hall of Records and the new courthouse outweighed the need for a home for the yet unfounded Bakersfield Junior College.
The civic center plan moved forward and the old courthouse was converted to Bakersfield's City Hall until its demolition following the earthquake of 1952.
Without the old courthouse to serve as a site, it was decided to charter the college on the campus of Kern County High School, now Bakersfield High School. G.C. Carlisle, Kern County's assistant superintendent for public instruction, stated in August 1911 that the purpose of forming a junior college "is primarily for those who do not have the opportunity to take advantage of a college or university training."
For potential college students living in Kern County, the nearest universities were the private Stanford University and the public University of California, both of which were in the Bay Area nearly 300 miles away.
In 1913, the newly appointed principal of Kern County High School, Dr. B.S. Gowen, also oversaw the newly established junior college and made plans for the installation of college classes in history, science, mathematics, agriculture, surveying, teaching and many other courses usually taken by first- and second-year college students.
In the summer of 1913, William A. Vivian was hired to teach mathematics and Paul R. Denton was hired to teach English and history. Both newly hired teachers saw duty in the high school and college classrooms. As the fall term of 1913 approached and students enrolled, Kern County Superintendent of Schools R.L. Stockton stated, "We are assured a good nucleus with which to start the junior college when the fall term begins."
Thirteen students entered Bakersfield Junior College in September of 1913. Enrollment by 1916 would grow to 30 students, and 57 students would enroll by 1920.
It wasn't until the spring break of 1956 that Bakersfield College left the campus of Bakersfield High School for its new home on the hill in east Bakersfield. The junior college building was renamed Warren Hall, in honor of former California governor and chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and alumnus of Kern County High School, Earl Warren.
Currently, 117 junior colleges are in California in 72 community college districts. As Bakersfield College celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, it has the distinction of being the second junior college established in California, with more than 17,000 students in attendance.
-- Ken Hooper is a history and archiving teacher at Bakersfield High School. He is the past-president of the Kern County Historical Society and the current historian for the Kern Veteran's Memorial Foundation.