1948 was, by today's standards, ridiculously affordable: The cost of a new house was $7,700. A gallon of gas ran you 16 cents, a loaf of bread was 14 cents, and a ticket to the movies was 60 cents. It was a good year for local organizations marking their diamond jubilee with equal meager and humble beginnings.
Temple Beth El was founded two years after the end of World War II and a year before the founding of the state of Israel. Thirty-five local families gathered at the old American Legion Hall downtown with ambitions of creating Bakersfield’s first Reform synagogue. Temple Beth El grew out of the older synagogue, B’nai Jacob. There was a thirst for a more intellectual understanding of the teachings of Judaism. B’nai Jacob, with an aging and dwindling membership, sold its Mill Creek Park building and has moved to Temple Beth El on Loma Linda Drive. Temple Beth El recently marked its anniversary with a jubilee celebration.
Across the street, Garces Memorial High School, named after Spanish Franciscan friar and missionary Father Francisco Garces, had its beginning in late 1947 but will mark this year as its diamond jubilee. The school is located between Union Avenue and Loma Linda on the exact site that Garces wrote would make a perfect place for a mission for the local Indian population as he explored the Kern River area.
Farther down the street and adjacent to Garces, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church was also planting roots. “We had no church. No school, and no rectory, just a hill," said the late Patricia Eagleson in a church 50th-anniversary publication. A handful of pioneering families faced the seemingly insurmountable task of building a new parish from the ground up when, in the spring of 1948, the Most Rev. Aloysius Willinger, bishop of the Monterey-Fresno Diocese, saw the need to establish a parish in the La Cresta area of northeast Bakersfield.
On Feb. 20 of that year, the diocese issued a decree naming the new parish Our Lady of Perpetual Help. There was still no place to hold Mass. OLPH received permission for the first parishioners to use Bertha P. Elliot Hall and the Old River Theatre in Oildale. Parishioners relied on folding chairs and square wooden kneelers.
Downtown, the Bakersfield Racquet Club was getting started. Avid tennis player Lake Lovelace, a U.S. military pilot in World War I, came to Bakersfield. Courts were constructed at nearby Jastro Park. A year later, Lovelace turned pro and began giving lessons. In 1932, he floated the idea of opening a tennis shop there and creating a private tennis club. By 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, those plans fizzled.
But Lovelace was relentless in his efforts to establish a private tennis club. The Tennis Development Corp. of Bakersfield was formed, and a thousand shares of stock at $50 each were sold. There was now enough seed money to buy land from Ralph Smith at the corner of Truxtun Avenue and Pine Street for the construction of a main building and a small pool. Dues at the time were $5.40 for a family membership.
“It is amazing to me that a thing Lake Lovelace started with a piece of plywood has been kept alive through the passion of members, their families and countless volunteers,” said Bakersfield Racquet Club Board President Frances Mayer. “It has grown into a club with the best lights and the best value this side of the Rockies.” The family club, where tennis and friendship are the major draws, is also home to champions, as many nationally ranked players grew up on the BRC courts or played in its annual USTA Men’s Futures Pro Bakersfield Tennis Open.
The Bakersfield Racquet Club is also home to the annual Camellia Show, which showcases some of the city’s most beautiful winter blooms. Founded in 1948 by a handful of women, it was on the brink of its demise two decades ago when sisters Susan and Libby Stull, whose father took them to camellia events regularly, decided to infuse new life and membership into the Camellia Society of Kern County.
Lisa Kimble is an Emmy Award-winning former broadcast journalist who began her career in radio. The opinions expressed here are her own.
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