He lived there less than two years, but to his family, Merle Haggard's home on Brae Burn Drive, four houses down from the Bakersfield Country Club, was the first real tangible evidence that dad was something special. It also meant they could finally be a family again.
Merle, his second wife Bonnie Owens, children Dana, Marty, Kelli and Noel, and mother Flossie, lived under the same roof for the first time in that 3,600-square foot home. The Brae Burn house came with a pool, pool house, four-car garage, wide driveway and new schools for the kids.
Now that spacious northeast Bakersfield house, at 4007 Brae Burn Drive, is on the market, and Realtor Andy Lagasse is treating its history like the home's most unique feature.
Before the Haggards and stepmother Bonnie moved in, the kids lived with Grandma Flossie in an 900-square foot home on Yosemite Drive in Oildale. The famous boxcar home that Merle's father built in the 1930s was situated directly behind it, but by that time was just a playhouse.
Merle had purchased a house in Oildale on Highmoor Avenue and he moved in with Bonnie, Bonnie's mother and Bonnie's sons Buddy and Mike (whose father was none other than Buck Owens, Bonnie's first husband). They had also picked up a straggler, Raymond McDonald, a boy Buddy's age whose parents had moved to Los Angeles and allowed him to stay behind.
By the end of 1968, Merle had put together string of nine top 10 hits, including five that reached number one. Merle had reached the big time. If ever there was a time to move up to something really nice, something with room for his kids, this was it.
"Talk about culture shock," said Kelli Haggard Patterson, who was 7 at the time. "From Oildale to Bakersfield Country Club. We literally moved to the other side of the tracks."
Buddy and Mike, 18 and 16, went to live with their father, McDonald recalls; both sons were hired almost immediately as KUZZ disc jockeys. McDonald moved back to L.A. with his parents.
That year, 1969, was as good to Merle as 1968 had been. He rattled off four straight number ones, culminating in September with the song that transformed him from country music star to cultural icon (and punching bag): "Okie From Muskogee," which became the Country Music Association's 1970 single and album of the year in 1970.
The Haggards took up residence in their new house in June 1969.
"I went to that house to visit when I was 19," said McDonald who became the singer's lifelong friend and frequent bus driver. "I walked in the front door and he and Bonnie met me. And he said, 'Sit down, I got a song I've got to sing for you.' And he sang 'Okie.' It hadn’t been released yet but he knew it was going to be a good thing."
Haggard bought the house at about the same time Charles "Fuzzy" Owen, his manager, mentor, bandmate and confidante, bought a house less than a mile away. Owen still lives there.
For Kelli, who now lives in Redding (and was evacuated for three days during the Carr fire, which is still only 45 percent contained), Brae Burn was a house of memories.
"I saw just the other day that the old 'Brady Bunch' house was for sale," she said. "That house (on Brae Burn) reminds me of the 'Brady Bunch' house so much.
"We were very impressed with it. It had a (second-floor) laundry chute and I remember trying to put our (youngest) brother Noel into it. It had a huge driveway, and we almost killed ourselves on our bikes riding down it. Of course everything is bigger when you're a kid."
Kelli and Dana shared an upstairs bedroom, and Marty and Noel shared another. A jack-and-and jill bathroom separated them.
"I remember our first Christmas there," Kelli said. "We were finally a family again."
Merle recorded his first Christmas album, "Christmas Present," while they lived on Brae Burn, and the album cover shows the family gathered around their new home's stone fireplace.
"It was shot in the middle of June and we all had to go out and buy Christmas clothes" for the photo shoot, Kelli said.
But Merle was itching for more room and particularly for his beloved Kern River. He purchased land on Highway 178, just a mile or so west of the mouth into the Kern Canyon, and commissioned a builder to construct his dream home.
But the house on Brae Burn sold more quickly (to Edwin D. Witter Jr., son of the founder of the investment firm Dean Witter & Co.) than the Haggards had expected and they had to move into a rental until the Kern Canyon mansion could be completed.
The Brae Burn house, built in 1965, has five bedrooms, three bathrooms and a "recording room," which Merle may have created by converting the four-car garage into a two-car garage — Lagasse isn't certain.
"It has a beautiful pool and a pool house that's probably bigger than the boxcar house," said Lagasse, who is affiliated with Watson Realty ERA.
The house has been on the market for about five weeks. It's priced at $359,000.