My friend Jeran McConnel is a modern maker and creator of Oleander and Palm, a lifestyle brand. Jeran and I share a love of old homes, modern design and traveling. We attend the same church. She is someone I look up to as a working mother. Her three children, two of them teenagers, are the sort of kids you hope yours grow up to be.
I am obsessed with everything McConnel makes. My office wall boasts a vintage-inspired “souvenir” felt Bakersfield pennant she made. Her baked goods are out of this world (hello, lemon lavender scones).
Honestly, I wish I could have her style my whole life. It’s embarrassing how many times I’ve considered calling her up to help me decide where to hang the dozens of framed photos and prints leaning against the walls in our closet. I just don’t know where to begin. I am positive that she would know just what to do. She can make any space beautiful and livable. She has a golden touch that seems effortless. Her approach is attainable. And just like anyone with talent, her gifts have been nurtured through tons of hard work and determination.
She honed this industriousness growing up in third-world countries. She’s one of the most resourceful people I know. (When you have to walk long distances for markets with fresh produce and water, without conveniences like paved roads, delivery or reliable electricity, you learn to get creative.) She is also a supremely positive person. She makes Bakersfield look good.
McConnel sticks up for our city and quickly volunteers to organize projects enhancing this place. She recently came up with the idea for a color-block mural to be painted downtown in shades of green from eight native plants. Chlorophyll is the life-giving force behind plants. The result is the Chlorophyll Wall. (She partnered with her “science nerd” husband, Lonnie McConnel, and the Bakersfield High School Ecology Club that he leads.)
McConnel’s focus is simple California living, designing and making livable spaces that incorporate vintage finds, handmade pieces and global inspiration. She is not from Bakersfield, but she’s one of the strongest advocates for our city, a supremely positive force. She has been supportive of our Be in Bakersfield project from the very beginning.
So it’s almost unbearably fitting that, while doing a walk-through of a home that her parents recently purchased in downtown Bakersfield, the sellers let her in on a little secret. The owners had discovered a booklet (probably printed in the 1920s) within the walls of their home, and they felt it should stay with the house. Little did they know that McConnel, a lover of historic homes, was the perfect person to appreciate such a gesture.
The booklet’s cover describes Bakersfield as “The City of Beautiful Homes.” Inside: “Bakersfield invites you to come and spend your winter vacations. Eternal spring prevails.”
It reads like a marketing piece, but the tone feels genuine. In the past, it seems that residents stood taller when explaining that they were from Bakersfield. It was fashionable to boast civic pride and shine a light on the good in your community.
And it is true. This time of year, it’s easy to forget that we are just at the beginning of a temperate, highly livable fall/winter/spring period. As the rest of the country is bracing for a long, cold, dreary few months, our city is coming alive. A good portion of the year here is ideal for al-fresco dining. There are few places in the country that can boast both true seasons (leaves changing, cooler temps, new growth in the spring) and still such a mild winter. We’re lucky in this way and many others. In a media-saturated world, we often compare our city to glossier alternatives. As my wise husband often reminds, comparison is the thief of joy.
My favorite line from McConnel’s booklet: “To live in Bakersfield is a privilege one hates to give up. We who live here love our city.”
This has not been the common narrative in recent years. But it is changing.
McConnel sent images of the booklet to a group of friends by text, and we were all encouraged. This is a group that my husband and I are lucky to call friends and collaborators. We don’t ignore the problems; we’re working hard in our own corners to enact positive change. We are still proud to live here. I am often reminded that not everyone in this city has such a positive outlook. And it made me think: Why do we lack this civic pride today? How can we get back to the inspiring attitude displayed in this still-relevant 1920s brochure?
Perhaps it was inspired by the City Beautiful movement that flourished between the 1890s and 1920s, an urban-planning movement led by architects, landscape architects and reformers. The movement claimed that well-designed public spaces should encourage civic pride and engagement.
We still have beautiful homes, good people, great weather, amazing food and a business-friendly environment. I would argue there’s even more entrepreneurial opportunity today than in the ‘20s. Our city’s population has grown exponentially. And the world is a smaller place in some ways, so traveling to a big city is even less a trek.
We live at a beautiful time in a beautiful place, with so many beautiful people. Let’s embrace it.
McConnel herself and her booklet are gentle, lovely reminders of this.