Amestoy’s on the Hill in east Bakersfield is one of those gnarly old saloons locals love for its history — and for its homeliness.
But the 70-year-old watering hole has been struggling to survive in a neighborhood that is likewise struggling.
So when proprietor and barkeep Mike Miller revealed last week that he will close Amestoy’s, the news not only disappointed longtime supporters, it raised questions about the fate of its weatherbeaten but vintage neon sign that hangs over the bar's entrance.
"I offered it to the Kern County Museum," Miller told The Californian. "They said they would only take it if I pay the cost to get it to them."
That's correct, said museum CEO Mike McCoy.
"The neon signs are a popular addition to the museum," McCoy said in an email. "However, they are not cheap to take down from their old location and then they have to be restored and re-installed. We have five or six signs in storage that we have not installed yet due to cost prohibitions."
Miller offered the still-glowing neon to the museum because he believes the sign is of historical interest. "I'd like to see it stay in Bakersfield," he said.
But Miller is not interested in paying to donate the sign.
Tim Fryer, owner of Victory Signs in Bakersfield and an electrical sign contractor for 35 years, said unshackling an old, fragile neon sign and carefully transporting it across town undamaged, is not as easy as it might seem.
“If I had to ballpark it,” he said, “it would probably take a crew of four most of the day. “It would cost between $2,000 and $2,500 to do it right.”
Bolts, locked by 70 years of weather and rust might need to be cut off. And great care would be needed to not cause any further damage to the sign.
But it’s worth the trouble, he said.
“I wish we could have saved the Trout’s sign,” he said.
“These old neons are a dying breed. I think it’s very valuable to the community, especially if it’s a local landmark, like Amestoy’s.”
Stephen Montgomery, vice chair of the city of Bakersfield’s Historic Preservation Commission, said it is important for the community take care not to lose buildings and artifacts of historical value to reckless development or outside interests.
Outside collectors, he said, have been known to snatch up small treasures. Think the iconic “Howdy Folks” sign from the former Green Frog market in east Bakersfield. It now belongs to the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale, Montgomery said.
And the American Jewelers street clock that once graced downtown was scooped up by the Sanfilippo Collection in the “Victorian Palace” otherwise known as “Place de la Musique” owned by the Sanfilippo Foundation in Barrington Hills, Ill.
Safeguards should be in place in the city and county, Montgomery said, that would require the commission to review permits for the demolition of unique buildings or structures of historical interest. But the city has not passed such an ordinance.
That’s how the Dome got away,” he said.
According to Fryer at Victory Signs, there may be a way to get like-minded people in the community to come together and solve the problem of getting the Amestoy’s sign to the museum.
A fundraiser, perhaps, to pay the cost of moving the sign? A volunteer effort?
The interest is there to save the sign.
But is the money?
We’ll keep you posted.