In the annals of great human migrations, this one is not especially noteworthy. Moses and the people of Israel from Egypt to the Holy Land — that was a migration. Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs from the partition of colonial India — definitely epic. Okies and Arkies from the environmental devastation of the Dust Bowl — the stuff of modern legend.
In that context, the migration of journalists, sales people and support staff from an iconic 90-year downtown landmark to the industrial outback just north of Bakersfield cannot reasonably be described as monumental. But if you had haunted these halls, as I have, since the Bush administration — the first Bush administration — you might put it in the same ballpark.
The Bakersfield Californian is about to complete its long-discussed move from 1707 Eye St., 93301, about 200 yards from the Padre Hotel bar, to 3700 Pegasus Drive, 93308, about 400 yards from the tip of the westernmost runway of the Meadows Field airport.
Yes, we are about to become Oh-Eighters. No, we are not about to become the Oildale Californian, although I'm considering T-shirts.
Here's how we pulled off the move and here's how it will, and won't, change your experience as a consumer of local news.
Last year, for the first time, the company began accepting new tenants at 1707 Eye, and it became clear to employees that a new era was dawning.
In early 2018, different departments that had been scattered throughout the four-story building began migrating up to the newsroom's longtime domain, the open, spacious third floor. Reporters, editors and columnists got to sit next to advertising salespeople, ad designers and others we might have previously known only as familiar faces in the hallways. It was a good experience; turns out these are all nice people.
More new tenants started moving into the building's first and second floors as the year progressed.
Then, on July 16, at 3:53 p.m., management announced that our media operations would be leaving 1707 Eye and joining our colleagues at the Pegasus production facility, where we print our daily newspaper.
Once the shock dissipated, employees started their own consolidation efforts.
This would be a particularly challenging task for a graying pack rat like me.
Over 30 years, through at least six different workstation cubicles and four offices, I had collected photos, books, plaques, trophies, paperweights, hate mail and love mail, including three green crepe paper shamrocks a local reader had sent me (and several colleagues) over the years inscribed with individualized, fortune cookie-esque messages of encouragement. I gathered up a floor heater, an electric fan, CDs, houseplants that I had trained others to water for me, a bathroom scale, a mini-fridge, a reader-bequeathed bowling ball and assorted other doo-dads.
Meanwhile, co-workers found artifacts of mine wedged behind desks and shoved into long forgotten drawers that I'd left behind after inter-office workstation moves: A pristine, flaming-gold newspaper rack card, designed by co-worker Glenn Hammett, promoting my 1997 series on the Bakersfield Sound; and a meticulously crafted, slightly stalkerish collage of headlines and meaningful snippets of text, sprinkled with dozens of images of my whiskery face, clipped from years of newspapers and sent to me by a reader serving hard time for manslaughter. Most of that stuff went into boxes that I deposited in my garage at home; the rest I stacked up for the move, whenever that was going to be.
In September, the news and features staffs moved into humble, temporary workstations one floor down. My desk was a pair of folding banquet tables, configured like an L, that faced a window with open blinds. Every time my eyes wandered from my computer monitor I found myself looking right at Business Editor John Cox, hunched over his keyboard on the other side of the window. It could have been worse; it could have been cops-and-courts reporter Jason Kotowski and his loud neon polo shirts.
Other coworkers followed, moving into various conference rooms and makeshift workstations throughout the second and third floors, some arranged in odd configurations. Two rows of banquet tables set up as the temporary headquarters of Bakersfield Life magazine somehow reminded Jim Lawitz, TBC Media's vice president and executive editor, of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.
A week ago, we got the final word: Moving day would be this weekend. Our first day in unincorporated north Bakersfield would be Nov. 5. Election Day would still be waiting for us Nov. 6.
Why did we move?
Daily journalism is changing and we are changing with it. The market has splintered; 50 years ago, people got their daily dose of civics from their daily newspaper and from Walter Cronkite or one of his television contemporaries. Today, news consumers can access, in an instant, literally thousands of news websites, most of them catering to their particular ideological or cultural bias. (That's another issue.)
Consequently, our business model has changed. Printing a daily newspaper is just part of what we do as we transition into the digital space. We now serve different audiences across multiple platforms including print, web and social media. In terms of raw numbers, more people are engaging with us than ever before.
However, to continue serving our local audience with general interest, ideology-neutral products, we have to realign resources. And one of the most obvious and effective ways to streamline is to look at facilities. For the past year, TBC Media has occupied only about a third of our historic Eye Street building. That's not an effective use of resources, logistically or economically.
TBC Media joins a long list of U.S. media companies that have moved from their historic downtown headquarters to smaller, suburban facilities. Most recent was the Los Angeles Times, which said in April it was moving to the city of El Segundo, leaving behind its downtown headquarters -- its home since 1935. In 2011, the Seattle Times vacated its building of 81 years, and in 2013 the San Jose Mercury News sold its complex to a computer manufacturer. The list of newspapers — large and small, family- and corporate-owned, conservative and liberal — that have made similar transitions also includes the Riverside Press Enterprise, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Chicago Sun-Times, and Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Lawitz and I had been talking about this trend for some time. Now it's our turn to move — and our turn to reassure readers about the ramifications.
"We're not leaving Bakersfield," he noted Friday. "We're moving to a different address within the metro area where we will continue to cover the same community in the same effective manner we've done for years."
Our new home, the Harrell-Fritts Publishing Center — a.k.a. HFPC, a.k.a "the plant," a.k.a. "Pegasus" — opened in 1984. The construction cost was $21 million — $51 million in today's dollars.
People have been mistaking HFPC for the newspaper's main news and advertising building almost since the day it opened; those folks will finally be correct.
The old/new headquarters is just east of Highway 65, south of Merle Haggard Drive and west of the William Thomas Terminal at Meadows Field. Our printing operation, which produces The Californian, Tehachapi News, The Record, The Voice, and some smaller publications, occupies the east side of the building; our news, advertising, finance and administration departments will fit cozily into the office space on the building's west side.
But we're leaving behind some history, and don't think we don't know it — and mourn it.
The Eye Street building was built in 1926, the early days of Prohibition, by Alfred Harrell, the guy for whom the highway to Hart Park is named. Harrell, the former Kern County superintendent of schools, bought The Californian in 1897, when he was just 34, and it has been in his family ever since. Publisher Ginger Fritts Moorhouse and her daughter, Associate Publisher Virginia Cowenhoven, are direct descendants.
Harrell, editor and publisher for 49 years, worked right up until the day he died in 1946.
When Harrell acquired The Californian — no, not in a card game, as some might tell you — the paper (which evolved from the Havilah Courier, founded in 1866) was housed at 1925 Eye St., an upright brick building that still stands.
The Californian prospered and grew; a new building became necessary, and Harrell commissioned Charles Biggar, regarded as the city's finest architect of the day, to design it.
Architectural historian Chris Brewer describes the building as consisting of two structures, both faced with reddish-brown bricks and with a primary facade that faces east. Originally, Brewer wrote in a 1984, state-commissioned Historic Resources Inventory, the four-story main building was rectangular in shape, but over time additions made it L-shaped.
The building's main entrance was grandiose for its time, and would be doubly so today. It has seven wide granite steps that lead to polished brass double glass doors that stand between Corinthian columns; above the door is inscribed "Established 1866."
A detached, 900-square-foot building, designed as a women's rest facility, is at the northeast corner of the larger one, and shares a courtyard with Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, which was built on land deeded to it by The Californian. The women's facility, specifically designed to accommodate ladies visiting downtown Bakersfield because cultural norms of the era made it difficult for them to find public restrooms, later became the newspaper's executive offices and then a meeting place for the company's board of directors and other committees. The newspaper's editorial board has interviewed many a candidate for president, governor and senator in that ornate little annex.
In 1983, The Californian building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of the nation’s brick-and-mortar cultural resources most worthy of preservation.
HFPC definitely lacks the architectural charm of the old headquarters, but the location has its strong points. It's near the Knotty Pine, which might have the best pastrami sandwich in town, and near the airport, where important people and dramatic events turn up from time to time. It's a five-minute walk to the now-under-construction Amazon fulfillment center, which economic development specialists say will spur new warehouse and commercial construction, which will in turn bring thousands of jobs to the area, and particularly to the North of the River communities that most need them. We'll want to be near all of that.
As Lawitz said, though, we won't abandon downtown Bakersfield, not physically and not in terms of coverage. So much happens in the city's center, good and bad. We can't and won't overlook it. But leaving downtown will also compel us to take closer looks at other sections of the city and county we might have previously given scant attention.
That'll benefit readers and the greater community, both.
Our move to "Oildale" is not epic, not legendary, not monumental, but the economic and cultural forces that prompt it most certainly are. The landscape has changed and we're changing with it.