William Thomas Bust

Why does the bust inside the William M. Thomas Terminal have no plaque explaining who its namesake is? 

Lisa Kimble

Ever wonder why a giant photograph of Big Sur, which is hundreds of miles away, greets passengers arriving and departing through Gate 2 at Meadows Field instead of one of the Kern River or the majestic Sierras? Or why the bust inside the William M. Thomas Terminal has no plaque explaining who its namesake is? Or why some of the display cases inside the secure area are bare?

I did on a recent trip, and it seems others have as well.

As it turns out, that iconic photo of the Bixby Creek Bridge in Monterey County is a stock photo used by Clear Channel which has an agreement with the terminal. The advertising giant has yet to sell that prized spot. So while Kern is a gateway to amazing geography, for now it seems, it leads to Big Sur as well.

KC Airports Chief Financial Officer Tamarah Harber-Pickens noted the peculiarity of the photo placement when I inquired recently and said she plans to ask Clear Channel about swapping it out for a regional photo.

At the time of our interview, only one of the three display cases, which beg for local artwork, was utilized.

“While we have some control as far as the use of that space, once we sell that advertising space, we would have to pull whatever is in it,” said Harber-Pickens.

Since then, nearly all the shelves showcase local aviation memorabilia and agriculture advertisements, albeit sparsely.

When the terminal opened 12 years ago, the Arts Council of Kern was involved with the donation of artwork. There are several pictures by acclaimed local photographer Greg Iger, a Tejon Ranch-sponsored tile mural of our area’s scenery, and a whimsical sculpture that welcome passengers. “Over the years, the connection with ACK has been lost but I would love to talk to the council,” Harber-Pickens added.

Arts Council of Kern Executive Director David Gordon would like to as well.

“Our mission is arts access, advocacy and education for Kern County residents and visitors and our airport is the perfect place to welcome those to our creative community,” Gordon said. “Airport terminals are designed to display regional art that basically brags about the destinations’ creative citizens. Meadows Field would be missing the mark if it didn’t take this artistic opportunity to welcome flyers with our own homegrown creative pride.”

As for the bust of Thomas, Harber-Pickens said no one has ever asked until now.

Perhaps because the former congressman is a household name to locals. Nevertheless, she said she plans to look into the possibility of a sign as well.

“Right now, we are working on a $50 million runway project, so there is not a lot of cash for other enhancements,” she said.

The airport’s financial footing has always been tied to the soaring or descending rate of airline passengers, which is tethered to offering attractive destination options. Built in 2006 for more than $33 million, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the gem of our airport system. Airport administrators will learn in the coming months whether Bakersfield will be awarded a grant to help lure an airline to re-establish a coveted Texas connection.

I have every reason to believe that will happen. It may take much longer for a sit-down eatery akin to the old airport’s iconic Freddie’s Skyway House back in the ’60s. When the new terminal was built, it was Blimpie that won the concession bidding war.

“We would love to expand offerings and are not opposed to a buildout for that down the road,” Harber-Pickens said.

At the time of my inquiry, a wall-to- wall paid advertisement served as the backdrop for the terminal’s baggage claim. Today, it has been replaced by a more becoming and attractive “Welcome to Kern County” scenic photograph.

There is movement in the right direction, Harber-Pickens concedes.

As there should be. The Thomas Terminal is a first-rate regional airport where its

optics should promise visitors an enhanced experience. After all, we have one chance to make a lasting impression. 

Opinions expressed are those of Lisa Kimble.

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