Downtown Bakersfield is already home to a variety of wildlife, both the four- and two-legged kind, but one native species is making its triumphant return: the silver fox.
The neon is brand-new but the design's a classic for the sign that went up this week outside the 18th Street bar. Owners Rod and Julie Crawford decided their Silver Fox Starlite Lounge could no longer operate without its well-lit mascot.
Rod Crawford said he felt like a "school kid out there taking pictures" as he carefully documented the installation of the new sign earlier this week.
"I can’t say how happy my wife and I are that it is there. ... They did such an amazing job. The colors are so vivid."
If all goes as planned, the switch will be flipped later this week, illuminating the sign that's an exact replica of the one that beckoned cocktail lovers for more than 60 years at the original Silver Fox. That bar closed in 2010 and the sign followed a year later, when it was carefully relocated to the Kern County Museum, which has become home to many beloved local signs in its Neon Courtyard.
In 2017, the Crawfords opened their lounge in the building that had most recently operated as an island-themed bar and restaurant.
The couple had been vocal about wanting to come to an arrangement with the museum to return the sign to its original location. A social media movement in 2018 fueled more talk but in the end it came down to recreating the sign.
Crawford praises the handiwork of Jerad Webb of California Neon Signs, who worked with his brother in Los Angeles on the neon for the foxy figure. Webb went out to the museum and got the exact measurements of the original sign, Crawford said.
Webb and his team have worked on other iconic local neon signs including the Fox Theater, Amestoy's on the Hill (which they helped move to the museum last year) and Pyrenees Cafe, which sustained damage from vandalism.
The Crawfords, who own the Old Town Kern establishment, paid to repair that neon sign, which belongs to the building owner.
"He made it bullet-proof," Crawford said of the Plexiglas case added over the signage.
Creating a brand-new neon sign for the Silver Fox has been a costlier endeavor — Crawford said he's hoping it comes in under $20,000 — but one the business owners know is worth it.
"I'm just glad to see it back on the pole," he said. "It took us longer and was more expensive than I had realized. But it seemed like the right time. We hoped we would be able to be open to pay for it."
Since bars are still not allowed to reopen on their own, the Crawfords will partner with Sancho's Tacos, which recently opened in the other half of the building, to provide food for a planned outdoor operation behind the building.
Crawford said, "We'll open in the parking lot, put some fencing up."
The couple are also finishing repairs at Pyrenees Cafe in order to reopen the patio for dine-in service.
"Everyone just wants to get back. It's hard when you spend so much time with a group of people like this; they're like family. We want to have everybody back home again."
Crawford is eager to resume operations as allowed and support the community in an extremely difficult time.
"There are a few places that won't recover from this. We planned for the worst but this is something that only happens in movies or happens to someone else. It has been definitely life-changing."