Total Pageviews

Wednesday, April 24, 2024


The Woolworth's building at 19th and K streets in downtown Bakersfield, CA is an example of the architectural style of late moderne. Elements of late moderne emerged from the art deco period, but with the changing times came a shift to a more streamlined, modern look, clean but still maintaining a sense of theatricality with its curves and subtle ornamentation. 

GUEST BLOG / By Steven Mayer, It’s been more than two years since a group of partners connected to Moneywise Wealth Management purchased the historic Woolworth’s building in downtown Bakersfield, California. 

Even as construction work is hitting its stride inside the 44,000-square-foot, late moderne architectural style structure built in 1949, the new owners say they will be the recipients of a grant administered by the city of Bakersfield worth nearly a quarter-million dollars — funding that is expected to greatly help the partners in their plan to remodel the interior of the building, making use of its underutilized potential, while maintaining its exterior charm and preserving its much-loved and historically significant Woolworth's lunch counter. 

Emily Waite shares her passion
for the historic Woolworth's
building and what she sees
as its enormous potential for
the long-term betterment
of downtown Bakersfield. 
"This is not an out-of-town venture capitalist group coming in and buying this as an investment," said Emily Waite, one of the family members involved in the Woolworth's Project that include Sherrod Waite and David Anderson. "We are a local Bakersfield, born-and-raised, mom and pop project," she said. "And we are just trying to make a difference, trying to have an impact here." 

In late January 2024, as Waite led a reporter and photographer through the building's three floors and massive basement, workers inside the building were hard at it, making noise and raising dust. 

A glance forward from the 19th Street entrance showed heavy plastic sheets tightly covering and protecting the luncheonette, the last functioning Woolworth's lunch counter in America. 

The partners' stated intention from the beginning has always been to keep the lunch counter open, and to restore it to its original luster, Waite said. And that hasn't changed. 

But it doesn't mean the lunch counter area will keep the appearance fans have come to expect. 

Same goes for the building's exterior. 

"The original paint was not this color," Waite said. "The green and tan you see now was not original. It's going to go back to the white and black." 

"Other than that, it will look exactly as it does now, but more polished up." 

Plans for the basement, now stripped down revealing the building's "bones," are also unchanged: Music venue, practice rooms, recording studio, and a bar are the basic amenities intended to make the space a magnet for music lovers, music makers and creatives in general. 

"This is where the basement of the department store was," Waite said as she stepped down onto the lower floor. "This is quite a thick layer of dust, but the original terrazzo tile is underneath it." 

"Terrazzo" is one of the magic words at the Woolworth's Project, where historic preservation is not only desired, it's now required, at the partners' insistence. 

Yes, it means construction will take longer. Maybe they'll be done by August 2024.

Yes, it means it will cost more. 

But they all agree, in the long term, it's worth it. Soon after acquiring the property, the partners made it a priority to have the building placed on the Register of Historic Places. 

In spring 2022, the Bakersfield City Council voted to add the building to the city's own Register of Historic Places. 

This was followed by required applications at the state and national levels. 

"We have since received historic preservation status from the California Office of Historic Preservation and expect to receive designation from the National Register of Historic Places, administered by the National Park Service, upon project completion," the partners said in their grant application. 

"Our goal is to leverage one of the area's few remaining architecturally significant pre-1952 earthquake buildings to create a hub for community, creativity and commerce," they wrote. "We plan to reopen the fully functional lunch counter to again serve the public's beloved classic burgers and milkshakes. Additionally, we hope to further the area's cultural and musical legacy by partnering with an established local music store. 

The first floor retail space, practice rooms, and basement venue will nurture talent." 

The partners say they are seeking lasting, positive change for "our beloved city," said Cecelia Griego, principal planner for the city of Bakersfield's Economic and Community Development Department, when the city of Bakersfield launched a competitive grant process for property and business owners in the Downtown Economic Opportunity Area for site improvement and business expansion, the city received 40 applications and was able to fund 24 of them. 

The purpose of the grant program, Griego said in an email, "is to support business growth, development, entrepreneurship, and innovation. "The EOA Plan is a locally initiated program that uses local sales tax revenue and other public funds to promote economic growth and development investment within specific geographic areas of Bakersfield," Griego said. 

The Woolworth's Project "met many of the evaluation criteria," she said, such as the redevelopment of an underutilized structure, helping to restore the tax base with a new or revitalized use, and providing support for new business growth that could create new jobs. 

In addition, the project supports the preservation of Bakersfield's history. Bakersfield City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, whose Ward 2 includes the downtown district, said while downtown faces some of the biggest challenges, it also offers some of the greatest opportunities to support the redevelopment of vacant and underutilized buildings, enhance the aesthetic beauty and improve the livability of downtown, while supporting the continued growth of commerce and entrepreneurship in the area. 

"I'm very excited about the Woolworth's Project and the vision and investment from those involved," he said. It has the potential to be a "game changer," Gonzales said, not only in the vicinity of 19th and K streets, but throughout downtown. 

"Great cities in America have great downtowns," he said. "Great downtowns have great buildings. That's what Woolworth's can become, and we will be better for it." 

No comments:

Post a Comment