A handwritten note-to-self is taped to a shelf in Gino Valpredo's tiny office in the back of the deli at Luigi's, the east Bakersfield dining institution.

It seems that the bar of Valpredo's Italian restaurant ran out of a necessary liqueur one recent afternoon and the folks at Pyrenees Cafe, about four blocks west, came to the rescue. Luigi's now owes them two bottles of peach schnapps as well as some beer, the memo reminds.

The scribble might as well have also declared, "More proof we Old Town Kern restaurants are in this together." Because they most certainly are.

"We always try to do that kind of thing — help each other," Valpredo said. "We're like family."

"We help each other out," Jenny Maitia of Wool Growers agreed. "Gino came and borrowed linens the other day because they ran out. They're great neighbors."

This week the family is sprucing up the neighborhood with a new mural, the second of what could be as many as a dozen graphic depictions of local history in the rough-around-the-edges Baker Street corridor east of downtown.

Muralist Sara Drennan is finishing up a 9-foot by 12-foot abstract based on a photograph of Luigi's storefront taken in 1909.

It's the latest example of the work of the all-volunteer Old Town Kern Beautification Committee, a group trying to make the eight-square-block area roughly east of Union Avenue and south of Highway 178 into an inviting destination for locals and tourists alike.

Not that it's not already: Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold knows all about this decidedly unglamorous center of Basque cuisine, as does "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" host Guy Fieri. Saveur, the New York-based gourmet food, wine and travel magazine, is in on the secret, too, as are the judges who bestowed the James Beard Foundation America's Classic Award on Noriega's in 2011.

But laurels can wither without periodic care, something the Old Town committee is working hard to forestall.

Committee chairwoman Jenifer Pitcher is leading a beautification project that, in addition to the murals, includes traffic signal electrical box art, new trees, repaired sidewalks, additional lighting and periodic litter pickups.

"These restaurants have spent a long time down here and they want to stay down there," she said. 

The committee, which operates almost totally on by-the-project donations, has contracted with artist Bobby Negrete for one more mural, this one outside Noriega's, with a handful more yet to be nailed down. Artist Thomas "Zach" Zachary completed the first mural, outside the landmark Basque eatery Wool Growers, in 2016.

But there's so much more to do.

"We're working with the Tree Foundation to add trees, add shade," Pitcher said. "We're working with the city trying to find upgraded lighting and sidewalks. All of the sidewalks are in pretty bad shape — on East 19th, East 21st and a lot of the smaller side streets. The concept is to make it more inviting, more walkable."

Better lighting, she said, will make a huge difference.

"Studies show crime is reduced when you have more and better lighting. We want people to come down here. We're trying to celebrate these restaurants' commitment to Bakersfield."

Is she concerned that vandals will deface the murals? Nah.

"Murals are used across the nation as graffiti abatement," she said. "Graffiti taggers respect the artist who created the art, for the most part. Those electrical box murals sometimes get tagged, but not really often."

Committee members subscribe to the broken window theory, she said. If you make it attractive, those other problem tend to go away.

Old Town Kern restaurants are thriving pretty well already, of course. When friends and family visit, many locals share the Basque experience. 

"We're already doing this (successfully), so we might as well make it nice looking while we're at it," Pitcher said.

She hopes to eventually see a regular series of street fairs come out of the revitalization effort.

Back at Luigi's, Valpredo is getting ready for the Tuesday lunch crowd — and "crowd" is almost always the word for it.

"Business is good," he said. "Business is pretty good for everyone down here. We support each other." Literally.

Valpredo's family dines at Noriega's on Sunday nights. Jenny Maitia, owner of Wool Growers, brought a party of 12 into Luigi's to celebrate her mother Mayie's birthday May 8.

As respected as Old Town Kern's restaurants are to many in the outside world, Valpredo said, locals are still discovering them.

"People are surprised to find this little gem, especially people who live on the west side of Bakersfield," he said. "They come in and say 'I can't believe this place is here.'"

And Luigi's would like to stay here, alongside its friendly competition. Volunteers like Pitcher are working to make it happen.

Contact The Californian’s Robert Price at 661-395-7399, rprice@bakersfield.com or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; the views expressed are his own.

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