By Richard Beene
My mailbox was full of readers reminiscing about Bakersfield when it was a smaller, quainter community. I wish I could use all of the responses but here is a sampling:
Marshall Helm is the owner of Greenlawn Mortuary and recalls the old days when East Bakersfield was the business heart of our community. "I had some happy thoughts today when I read about Sinaloa once being located where Wool Growers now stands. It was sort of 'our corner.' Ernie Hashim had his speed shop on the northeast corner of 19th and Baker streets. Across the street on the northwest corner was Wally Tucker's car lot, which later became a paint store. I had a motorcycle shop (Digger's Motorcycle Center), which was two buildings down from the southwest corner on Baker Street. All of us from that little square would meet every day for lunch at Sinaloa. There are a ton of dragster and motorcycle stories that we will never be able to tell... but it sure was a fun time."
Reader Benny Fuentez has fond memories of a restaurant called the Chinese Kitchen, which he said operated in the 1950s on Baker Street in the building that now houses Arizona Cafe. Fuentez, who attended Lincoln Junior High School at the time, was a paperboy for The Californian and remembers reporting to the establishment to get his daily allotment of papers.
"All of us paperboys would meet there and eat fried rice with gravy and crackers and wait. With Wool Growers, the Pyrenees and other places close by, everybody was drunk, so you could sell five or 10 papers at a time to one person. Especially if it was raining, they would feel sorry for us and ask us, 'How many papers you got?' We'd have 10, and the papers were 10 cents back then, so they'd give us a dollar and we'd go home. Those were the good old days."
Janeen Carter-Smith doesn't consider herself an old timer but she does fondly remember the Plunge and its famous neon sign on South Union Avenue. "I spent so very many summer afternoons there with a favorite of sun-melted Hersey bars over French fries; how could I have possibly forgotten?
It appears we finally solved the question of what was the name of an early Mexican restaurant located near the current Wool Grower's building. Jack Ortega also remembers it was being named Frager's Spanish Kitchen, and next door was Fontana's Pie Shop. "I was raised in east Bakersfield from the late 1920s to some time in 1948, and a lot of the young guys hung out at Fontana's and knew of Frager's. A great place to eat Mexican food."
Ann Cierley remembers the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor when she was a 10-year-old who was spending the day watching other neighborhood kids at the Kern Theater on Chester Avenue. "The lights went out - the usher went up on the stage - and announced Pearl Harbor had been bombed! The kids were already booing the interruption so we all sat noisily until the screen came back with little or no understanding of anything. Several times more, the show was interrupted to more catcalls and a very annoyed me told my quizzical sisters and the kids around us that it meant we were going to get bombed and shot and now I had a group of crying kiddies on my hands to calm down... The war wasn't that far removed from the West Coast. We had air-raid drills at school and even dog tags were made for us at Beardsley. I kept mine for many years. Bakersfield had blackouts (our new Weather Bird sign was darkened), we had air raid wardens, war bond drives, gas rationing and military bases appeared like Minter Field out near Shafter. We all bought war stamps every week at school. Our mothers kept ration books. We had rubber drives, coffee can drives (I never understood that one) and all were very patriotic. Two uncles flew many missions over Europe and the Pacific. Both survived, I'm happy to say. Millie Munsey helped me put on a war bond rally at Emerson in 1944, and my early years at Bakersfield High were filled with memories of being held up at the train tracks and stations by the many, many troop trains coming and going."
Richard Beene is president and CEO of The Bakersfield Californian. He blogs at www.bakersfieldobserved.com. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.