It's been more than three years since the 107-year-old Security Trust Bank building in downtown Bakersfield reappeared in its original form to the amazement of thousands of area residents.
The building's neoclassical architecture had been hidden — and mostly forgotten — behind an ugly wall of stucco.
Now, after years of anticipation, the buyer and seller have each confirmed that the building at Chester Avenue and 18th Street has been sold, and plans are to transform the unique space into a restaurant.
Foti Tsiboukas, whose family started the series of Fabulous Burgers restaurants, and who operates the one on Airport Drive, is the proud new owner of the venerable old building, which one local architectural historian affectionately called a "little Beaux-Arts temple."
Understandably, Tsiboukas was reluctant to provide too much detail, as his plans will require the approval of city building officials before he can move forward. But his passion for the project — and for his vision — was clearly evident.
"When I tell people about it, they always get teary-eyed," he said.
"I will do right by this building. I want people to walk in and say, 'Wow, this is a nice place.' And I want them to come back."
Tsiboukas has good local roots. He played soccer for Cal State Bakersfield and returned to the city with his family to continue his career and raise his 3-year-old son.
The food will be locally sourced when possible, but he doesn't want it to be too expensive.
"I don't want to price people out," he said.
It was spring 2014 when former owner Sam Abed began the process of removing the stucco facade of the building some may remember as Bea's Loft.
As each section of plaster was removed, another piece of the century-old bank building was revealed. When the stucco skin was finally peeled away, tall sandstone columns, 18-foot-tall windows and ornate details were uncovered.
It was a monumental discovery, local architectural historian John Edward Powell said at the time. In a city with a reputation for bulldozing or "modernizing" unique old buildings, he said, being given a rare chance to preserve such a find was a gift that could not be squandered.
"This is the biggest event to happen in historical preservation in Bakersfield for decades," Powell said at the time. "I hope people understand that."
The high brick walls and ceiling and massive windows have plenty of potential. It's not hard to imagine how it might look from the outside on a cold winter's night as warm, straw-colored light pours from the windows.
The building was on the city's list for demolition not so long ago. But Abed was seduced by the rare gem he had uncovered. And he vowed to find the right buyer, a promise that took more than three years to bring to fruition.
The windows alone cost close to $40,000, he said. That doesn't count the cost of the roofline renovation and other work to improve the impressive exterior.
Abed wanted to see light pouring from the windows and the city's residents pouring through the door.
"I'm a native of Bakersfield, born and bred," he said.
And he didn't view the building as just a business investment. He viewed it as an investment in the community.
"I had offers, ridiculous amounts of money to rent the building, from bar owners and nightclub operators," Abed recalled. "But I couldn't do it.
"After all the work we did restoring the exterior, I couldn't mess up on the tail end of it. Thank God my patience ended up paying off.
"Foti is a family man," Abed said. "He was the exact person we were looking for."
But Abed has one caveat. Now that he no longer owns the building, he said, he feels free to ask the City of Bakersfield why it seemed to be missing in action during the long and expensive restoration process.
"The issue I had with the city is they offered zero assistance," he said. "In fact, they made my life more difficult."
Because the preservation of the building was clearly an asset to the city, Abed said, he thought local government might see fit to waive permit fees, traffic impact fees or other costs. But barring that, Abed said, he would have appreciated a simple visit or a call from city officials with an offer to help streamline the bureaucratic maze.
"Maybe a call asking, 'How can we help?'" he said.
But now the project is in the hands of the new owner, and Abed wishes him well.
With a purchase price of nearly $800,000, the investment is considerable. And the inside is just a brick shell, requiring further investment.
But Tsiboukas is determined. You can hear it in his voice.
"The future of my family is in this building," he said. "My family is everything to me."