Like most local married couples with children, Aileen Saucedo and her husband, Abram, lived closer to the suburban edges of Bakersfield than they did to the city's urban center.
They had a backyard and a lawn and all the trappings of a traditional "Leave it to Beaver" lifestyle.
Then one day last spring they dropped by the 17th Place Townhomes, a newly built, $6.7 million complex of 44 three-story apartments located almost squarely in the center of the city.
And they fell in love.
"Well, I fell in love," said a grinning Aileen Saucedo.
"My husband is more of a country guy," she said. "I'm a city girl. I liked the city setting — and Cafe Smitten is next door."
After the visit, convincing her husband wasn't that hard.
"I just had to twist his arm a little," she said, laughing.
The complex, billed as "a touchstone for luxury urban living," was built on 1.34 acres — not quite a city block — and is bound by 17th and 18th and N and O streets. And just last week, the developers and investors in the project announced that every apartment in the complex is now leased.
It's a success story — at least so far — for a project that had more than a few naysayers, said Austin Smith, the site's developer and property manager.
"This is Bakersfield's largest urban revitalization project since the renovation of the Padre (Hotel) in 2010," Smith said.
He and Daniel Cater, the project designer and an architect at Cater Design Group, believe it is the most environmentally sensitive project in Bakersfield, with its high-density design, its walkability, its energy and water efficiency and other features.
"It is "a transitional urban model," Cater said. That means it surely isn't suburban, but its open spaces, bike lockers, pet area, front stoops and deep sidewalks help make it a bit softer than a purely urban environment.
And unlike some other residential urban renewal projects downtown, it is a market-rate development, meaning it was done without the benefit of government assistance.
"A lot of the redevelopment projects laid the groundwork for what we've done here," Smith said.
But government redevelopment money has dried up, and "it's really got to be private-sector investment from now on," he said.
Each townhome is made up of two stories of living space over tandem parking garages — one vehicle behind the other.
But there's also outdoor living space where residents can grill salmon filets, sip pinot noir and enjoy what some have said is a close-knit community of like-minded people.
"I've always wanted to live in an urban environment, and I like that you can walk to places, or at the very least, ride a bike," said Drew Sherwood, a 23-year-old business systems analyst from Fresno who recently moved to Bakersfield for his job.
And while he really enjoys the "walkable community" aspect — and being in close vicinity to Goose Loonies and the newly reopened Silver Fox, the biggest and best surprise for Sherwood was the sense of connection and community that has formed at the complex.
For a guy who didn't know anybody in Bakersfield what he moved here, Sherwood said, 17th Place turned out to be the perfect place for him.
"It really expanded my friends group here," he said.
Inside the small office where on-site manager Nancy Willis oversees the complex, a map of the 17th Place Townhomes shows orange flag pins on every unit in the complex, indicating that there are zero vacancies.
Marc Thurston, a senior vice president at Newmark Grubb Commercial Real Estate, who is not involved in the 17th Place project, said the apparent success of the urban infill endeavor — which included 10 individual investors — is a reflection of the growth of Bakersfield and its burgeoning potential.
"Back when we were growing up, people were all going out to the suburbs," Thurston said. "Now you have a lot of new people in Bakersfield and they don't have an allegiance" to any area of town.
"This type of living is very popular in urban centers," he said. "Often what we see is the more walkable it is, the higher the rent."
Indeed, the rent is $1,500 to $1,800 a month at 17th Place.
"We've been pleasantly surprised by the diversity" of residents, Smith said. There are many more families with children and baby boomers than we anticipated."
For Physician Assistant Stephen Hanson, 61, the move to 17th Place was almost life-saving. His marriage of 41 years had broken up and he needed a place to live.
His daughter had lived in mid-town Sacramento, and when he visited, he was intrigued by the energy and vibrancy of the urban lifestyle.
"From my third-story bedroom I have a view of the mountains. I look at the canyon," he said. "I'm so happy there."
He and his new friends at the complex walk to go get a drink or some dinner in the evening. And when it's not 108 degrees, he walks the 16 minutes to work at Adventist Health Bakersfield.
"Austin Smith was a visionary," Hanson said. "Someone had to make this happen east (of) Chester," he said. "Downtown is so vibrant."