Some will surely wonder why businessmen of old would slap a ghastly stucco facade over a beautiful, stately, historic building in downtown Bakersfield.
Whatever their reasons may have been, workers on Thursday began stripping the facade from the building on the northeast corner of Chester Avenue and 18th Street -- revealing what appears to be an architectural gem beneath the surface.
"You should see the traffic," said the building's owner, Sam Abed. "People have been taking photos, asking questions. Everyone wants to know more about it."
The concrete and brick structure has been empty since 2002 when a fire damaged the roof. At that time, it housed a restaurant called Tapas.
Bakersfield architect David Cross, who is working on the project with Abed and construction contractor Steve Moreland, has copies of the original building plans.
It was built in 1910, and for the first chapter of its life, it was The Security Trust bank, Cross said.
Later it became an old-fashioned drug store with a soda fountain. Cross recalled the first time his nose was tickled by the effervescence of a sweet soda was at that store in the late-1930s or early 1940s.
It may have suffered some damage in the great earthquake of 1952, Abed said.
However, Cross noted the building was ahead of its time in the way it was concrete-reinforced.
"It was a very well-built structure," he said.
The most recent stucco facade probably was added in the 1970s. According to city records, the roof was repaired previous to the current project.
"You know what? It was risky," Abed acknowledged of his decision to buy the building last year and restore it. But he's so excited about the project, he's been visiting it daily, marvelling at the building's red-brick interior, the 18-foot windows and many of the building's other features
"You should see the front," he said.
Abed was convinced to invest in downtown Bakersfield, he said, after closely watching the district's renaissance in recent years: the resurrection of the Padre Hotel, the exciting new restaurants moving in both east and west of Chester, the art scene and more.
So what sort of business might eventually make its home in the one-time bank?
"Here's the funny thing," Abed said. "We are seeing a lot of action from restaurant owners who want the location."
But its strong exterior and inviting interior might also work as a law firm, a government building -- or even to go back to its original concept, as a bank.
It's really up to the next tenant or owner, Abed said.
On Thursday, as workers pulled the building's artificial skin from the 104-year-old building, a new chapter may have been opened -- for the grand old building and for the city's downtown.