East Bakersfield's history-rich Baker Street corridor is populated with a number of great restaurants — and the city's most severe homeless problem. Disconnected souls live both on the street and in homeless shelters around and among several renowned dining establishments. The result is a promising business district — Old Town Kern, as the area is known — with two distinct and conflicting personalities.
My March 24 column on Old Town Kern prompted several readers to write in with comments and clarifications. Here are a few:
Reader: I read your column on Baker Street ("Where We Live: In Old Town Kern, renowned restaurants and pervasive homelessness are side by side"). You left out the best part of the story: East Bakersfield in the period from 1940 to 1975. I grew up in the area and it was the greatest place.
Two movie theaters, two five & dimes, J.C. Penney's ... and did you forget the French Shop? It was well known for women's fashions. Saba's Men's Wear — you need a separate story about those guys, real gentleman. Wally Tucker Datsun, the library — wow — and Jefferson Park, where every summer there was swimming and games, arts and crafts. You left out all of north Baker Street: a real blacksmith's shop, Uhalt's across from Southern Pacific depot, all the many business on East 18th and East 19th. I worked at Mayfair on Kentucky. How about Snyder's Cyclery? Yes, they sold bikes but also sporting goods. Do not forget Trinity Methodist Church. Many of the families of the staff at East High attended for years. My beautiful bride and I were married there Jan. 23, 1965. I could go on and on, but you get the picture!
— Don Kurtz
Price: Yes indeed, I left out a few things. Quite a few.
Reader: With your March 24 column on Old Town Kern and an earlier one on the Southern Pacific train depot ("Baker Street train station might soon be ready for its next life," March 13), I wonder if you know about the part these places have in Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” his famous Beat Generation novel about his road trip from 1947.
At one point he gets a ride from Oakland to Bakersfield and is dropped off by a motel that sounds much like the Bakersfield Inn and Union Avenue/Highway 99. He has little money and no transportation to L.A. and so goes to the bus depot.
While waiting for the bus he meets a Mexican girl who is traveling to L.A. (“I loved the way she said L.A.,” he famously wrote.)
They get to L.A., explore for a week or two, and then decide to go back to her hometown near Fresno.
They end up between buses in Bakersfield again. They find their way to the SP tracks and he describes a part of town (he calls it Mexican town) which sounds much like Baker Street and surroundings. They spend the night there drinking wine.
He references a Quonset warehouse and freight cars next to them and the lights of Bakersfield straight ahead. He must have been describing the depot and rail yard. A few years ago someone found the Mexican girl he wrote about living in Fresno.
— Tom Schroeter
Price: Makes you wonder if any more lost poets are drinking wine from the bottle around the rail yard these days. They aren't if the Union Pacific's employees can help it.
Reader: I love this new series of articles about Bakersfield neighborhoods. The Old Town Kern piece was exceptional. And the side article on the restaurants was great as well. But you hooked me with the one sentence — that we “pretty much know” who murdered Earl Warren’s father, Matt Warren. You tease. I don’t know, so clue me in!
— Michael Willis
Price: That was a tad sinister of me, I know. I'm guessing you read the Old Town Kern column in print, because the online version had a hot link to last month's column on the Warren murder.
Earl Warren's chief investigator, Oscar Jahnsen, came down from Alameda County, where Warren was the district attorney, and essentially ran the murder investigation. He soon came to the conclusion that the killer was Ed Regan, who had been Matt Warren's primary rental-property handyman and to some extent a business partner. He may also have owed Warren money from a personal loan. Regan supposedly made a deathbed confession 20 years later.
Google that Feb. 17 column, titled "Eighty years later, we've identified Matt Warren's killer (we think)." It's a pretty good yarn.
Reader: I wanted to congratulate you on your great "Where We Live" column about Old Town Kern and the sidebar story on the area's restaurants ("History and great food abound in Baker Street corridor," March 24). It was very informational, but I was hoping maybe next time you can include my mom’s restaurant. It’s next door to the Arizona Cafe, to the left, 813 Baker St. It’s called Los Reyes, and she’s been running it for over 26 years. It’s a great little place.
Maybe one day you can stop by and enjoy a Mexican dish. I’d recommend the chile verde or the menudo. If you ever get a chance to stop by, let them know Virginia Barragan invited you. Thank you for your time and please continue with such great articles.
-- Virginia Barragan
Price: Thanks for the note, Virginia. I had dinner at Los Reyes some time ago — carne asada, I think it was — and it was great. I popped into the restaurant a couple of weeks ago, too, and spoke to your mother about what I had planned. And in fact I did mention Los Reyes in my March 24 WWL and suggested the carne asada. We also included Los Reyes in our map of Old Town Kern. I'll come back, promise.
Reader: Regarding your mention of the Bakersfield City School District office in your March 24 column on Old Town Kern:
Washington Junior High was built and established in 1891 on Baker Street. After it was damaged by the earthquake in 1952, the school was rebuilt in 1955 on Noble Street and the former school became home to the city school district office.
Your article suggests the current BCSD office was always in that location.
— Susan Peninger
Price: If my article left that impression, it was because I was trying to tame its length — as it was, the column and its sidebar were a combined 3,600 words. My point was that the building at 1300 Baker, built in 1895, is beautiful and distinctive. We just happen to have known it for the past 67 years as the BSCD office.
Reader: After reading your column on Old Town Kern I thought I’d give you a little heads up on the information you posted about our business, Pyrenees French Bakery. We are not in any way affiliated with Pyrenees Café besides the fact that Basque families owned them.
— Cheri Laxague
Price: The Pyrenees Cafe opened in 1887 as a bakery, saloon and hotel for Basque sheepherders, as I noted in the column. The bakery later split off as an independent business. I reported that the resulting entity evolved into Pyrenees French Bakery.
Your company's official bio says that Pyrenees French Bakery opened in 1887 as the Kern City French Bakery. Would that mean two separate French bakeries opened the same year in the same little village? In any event, the Laxague family and their partners, who had purchased the competing Parisian Bakery in 1944, bought the Kern City French Bakery in 1947. They moved the merged operation into the Kern City bakery building and renamed the business Pyrenees French Bakery. It has been owned by the Laxague family ever since.
Reader: I want to add something to the Old Town Kern column. There's an underground tunnel on Baker Street, running from the Arizona Cafe across the street to the hotel. They were used in the real old days for people to come across the roadway there. Something you might add to it later.