The Bakersfield High School water tower has seen a lot: countless football games and rallies, cars speeding along California Avenue and more than a few fearless students who climbed its ladder to leave their mark on the local icon. Now the water tower has a different view, overlooking Kern Pioneer Village.
While what it sees from way up high is other historical buildings, lovingly restored to their former beauty, the view at its own feet could be a little better. But a fundraiser later this month will help the museum spruce up the area, with grass and sprinklers, and maybe more, in the future.
Meet at the Water Tower, put on by the Driller to Driller Foundation, will be held on April 28 at the museum, with food, music and plenty of stories.
The tower is "iconic; it's been there since 1933," said Jami Anderson, CEO of the foundation and BHS graduate. "I'm used to driving by it, and it's not there anymore. It's kind of sad."
As legendary as the water tower is, it had to be removed because it didn't meet codes for the reconstruction of Griffith Field and stadium at BHS. The campus might always be the water tower's true home, but it should be comfortable at the museum, with alumni and local history lovers visiting to admire it. And maybe a few former students from rival schools will come to glower at it.
If this water tower could talk
The water tower, built in 1933, wasn't constructed to be an icon, an all-seeing eye watching over the high school and the junior college that shared the campus at the time. It was built to be a reservoir in case of fire, said Lori Wear, curator of collections at Kern Pioneer Village. Prolific architect Charles Biggar oversaw the project.
"In later years it was used to water trees and grass," Wear said. "And by later years, I mean 1934."
That comes from a May 24, 1934 article published in The Californian on the addition of trees to the campus. Because of that hard-charging football team, it was hard to keep grass growing on the field under their feet.
The article reads: "For long there was difficulty in obtaining sufficient water to supply the thirsty plants and grass, but last year a tank was built on the corner of Fourteenth and C and since that time the school has had water in plenty."
Wear didn't know when the tower stopped being a functional water tank.
The tower might be most enduring as a symbol of BHS school pride — it does currently read "Driller Country," after all — but don't forget that the downtown campus was also home to the Renegades from 1913 to 1956.
"The first time it was painted — we think of it as blue and white, but it was actually red because of Bakersfield Junior College (sharing the campus)," said Ken Hooper, local historian and BHS history teacher. "It was just the letter B."
Technically, the B was maroon, the college's color at the time. An article published by the college newspaper on Sept. 23, 1937, said getting that B up there "has not been a bed of roses." That article was shared in a letter Jerry Ludeke of the Bakersfield College Archives wrote in August and was passed on to The Californian by Wear.
"The original plan was to have the letters 'B.J.C.' painted on the southeast side, but the powers that be of the high school promptly raised a howl of protest," the Renegade Rip article states. "The J.C., they said, could have its 'B.J.C.' monogram on the south side; but would have to be contented with a single 'B' on the southeast side. A compromise was made — the J.C. agreed to the single letter on the southeast side."
As Ludeke pointed out, the sides mattered. The junior college wanted its initials on the side facing the stadium; the compromise put the maroon "B" on that side, but the "J.C." would have to go on the side facing the college's practice area.
A couple months later, the Rip wrote of a bonfire ahead of a big game against the Renegades' rivals, the Taft Cougars. A few student groups had different responsibilities to make sure the night went smoothly, including one that had to monitor that fought-for "B," anticipating some Taft pranksters might have some fun with it. The article reads "... the Varsity Club will see that the big 'B' on the water tower remains a big 'B' ..."
The water tower was painted even more over the decades, sometimes officially and other times by students who maybe had more guts than brains.
Anderson, who graduated in 1984 with Wear, recalled getting a really good view of the tower her junior year.
"I climbed that water tower and painted my jersey number during powder puff," Anderson said, recalling that her team of junior girls beat the seniors that year. "We did it at night. We just went and climbed up. Everybody did it.
"You'd see it painted and go, 'Who did that?!'" Anderson continued. "Generations have climbed this tower. It was just a good school spirit thing. It's something I remember at BHS really looking forward to."
Anderson and her classmates might have been some of the last to scale its 60-foot heights, as Hooper estimated security got tougher in the mid- to late-'80s to deter kids from climbing. (Wear said the fear of climbing back down kept her from ever attempting the ascent herself.)
There will be no climbing the water tower at the museum, though. Wear said the museum would like for it to become the site of another rental, which could host reunions and other events. For that, it will need a shade structure and some cement. The museum is also in the early stages of planning alumni walls near the tower, where grads can buy tiles for themselves or classmates to put on the walls, each covering a certain range of years.
Wear recalled the day the tower moved to the museum in the early morning hours of Aug. 24 last year. Still dark outside, the tower made its way north, and when it got to the museum from the back, part of the fence had to be taken down to accommodate its size. It took less than five minutes to raise it, Wear said.
Now the museum has two towers on either end of its grounds, as the new one is set up in the back with the Beale Memorial clock tower in front. Wear explained that so many of the historic Bakersfield residents people learn about at the museum would have seen that water tower and maybe even a game in its shadow.
"There's certainly a long-time historical component associated with BHS," Wear said, naming people like Merle Haggard, Kevin McCarthy and Frank Gifford as famous Drillers. "When looking at national history, there's definitely an association — that people at one point in their lives saw the water tower."
Raising money for the tower
To give the water tower the second home it deserves, the Driller to Driller Foundation is helping to raise money to beautify the area around where it now stands in the dirt at the west end of the museum by the hospital.
Anderson didn't know the event she was planning for the foundation, which awards scholarships to college-bound BHS seniors in need, would turn out to be a fundraiser for the place it would be held.
"We were looking to see where we wanted to host our next event, and we thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to have an event at the water tower?'" Anderson said.
When Anderson learned that the area surrounding the water tower wasn't quite fit for hosting just yet, that her guests likely wouldn't want to spend hours dancing while they kick up dust, she decided the gathering would raise money for the tower instead of just her foundation. That way, the next time the group wants to host a party in honor of its old stomping grounds, it can do so right at the tower.
The event, sponsored by Dewar's, Andco Plumbing and the Terri Jamieson family, will be held in the grass by the gazebo, but guests are, of course, encouraged to check out that old tower they are there to support.
Tickets include a dinner of barbecue chicken and tri-tip, potato salad and greens, which will be provided by Ms. Pat's Mobile Kitchen. A special blue hurricane drink provided by Los Molcajetes will be sold in a mug that says "Driller Pride." There will also be live music by the Byrom Brothers. Hooper will bring some historical and memorabilia items for people to look at too.
Anderson hopes the event will raise $10,000, half of which would go to the museum for the water tower and the other half to BHS band and theater programs and the Driller Service Academy. What's earned from selling commemorative T-shirts and mugs will go to the foundation.
Anderson has no doubts that Drillers past and present alike care a great deal about the water tower, although ticket sales haven't yet reflected that. It's been hard for her to get in touch with decades of alumni, since many of the older ones have changed phone numbers and aren't on social media.
"Two-hundred and fifty people, I know I can do, with my eyes closed," said Anderson, the veteran event planner. But she'd like to see more BHS grads and knows they're out there.
Like many Drillers, Anderson was disappointed to see the water tower leave its home of more than 80 years but the silver lining of its removal is pretty shiny.
"Although I'm sad to see it go, it's right where it needs to be if it had to move," she said. "The fact that they moved it and didn't tear it down is wonderful. It's a piece of BHS history. It was a good move."