Lorrie Guiltinan is the only resident still living directly in the path of the 24th Street widening project.
And does she ever know it.
“I found a man in my backyard a couple of weeks ago,” she said. “I’ve had the police here so many times. Ever since they started boarding up houses around here, it’s gotten really bad.”
Bakersfield’s 24th Street is changing dramatically as the project to widen this busy commuter artery moves forward. And while Guiltinan, 70, rejected an earlier offer by the City of Bakersfield to buy her out, she accepted a more recent offer.
Still, the prospect of abandoning the home she has lived in for 40 years is “difficult, depressing,” she said.
“I’m emptying my house into boxes.”
And the memories are everywhere.
She and her late husband, Richard, raised two daughters in the home. One bedroom has for years been reserved for her granddaughter.
But the toys, the wooden Noah’s Ark, the child’s stove, the cowgirl hat, are all being made ready to go. Guiltinan isn’t just boxing up things, she’s packing away memories as she prepares to move out to make way for the demolition of her family home of four decades.
Her voice quavers as she talks about it.
“This is still my granddaughter’s room,” said Guiltinan, who didn’t want to be photographed in her home. “What do you throw away? What do you keep? I think most people understand how difficult this is.”
Maybe. But plenty of residents have also criticized the effort by a citizens group to stop the widening project before it could get going. However, while their effort is still being litigated in court, the physical demolition of houses seems to represent a major loss for project opponents.
Five houses on the north side of the street have already been demolished and cleared, one of them adjacent to Guiltinan’s home. This month, eight more houses — seven on the north side, one on the south — are slated for destruction.
Only seven homes will then remain in the path of this multimillion-dollar project. Five are on the south side, two are on the north.
One of those two homes, the so-called Speakeasy house built in the 1920s, is expected to be moved out of the path of demolition. The last house, Guiltinan’s, could very well be the final home taken apart by the huge, steel claw that looks not unlike a scorpion tail attacking its prey.
The big machine is visible through Guiltinan’s living room window, a sobering reminder that it will take mere minutes to reduce her home to splintered wood and crumbled plaster.
Vanessa Vangel, spokeswoman for Citizens Against the 24th Street Widening Project, said she didn’t know Guiltinan until some months ago when Guiltinan reached out for help and guidance in dealing with the city.
“She was very upset, very emotional,” Vangel said. “She didn’t want to sign anything and potentially make a huge, irreversible error.”
When you’re a single woman, Vangel said, you have to be careful about making life-changing decisions.
“Lorrie more than likely represents the majority of the people who basically had no choice but to move,” Vangel said. “Now all of her life is going into cardboard boxes.”
Despite the stress and her feeling that something important in her life is being lost, for Guiltinan, the move may ultimately come as a relief. She just wants it to be over.
“I have until late May or early June to be out,” she said.
She hopes her new neighbors will be as kind and supportive as her neighbors in Westchester.
And to those who would call her a “holdout,” she can only shake her head.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “They have no idea what I’m going through.”