Local News

Sunday, Jul 08 2012 06:00 PM

Widening 24th: Residents cherish their endangered homes

  1. 1 of 5

    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Kari and Scott Heilman stand on the front porch of their 1926 bungalow that will be torn down under either plan to widen 24th Street.

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  2. 2 of 5

    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Kari and Scott Heilman's dog Sydney runs through their backyard, which they have landscaped. If the 24th Street widening project happens as proposed, their backyard and house would have to be torn down.

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  3. 3 of 5

    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Julie and Richard Young look through the original plans to their house that was built in the 1920s. If the current proposed plans to widen 24th Street to the north go into action, their home will be torn down.

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  4. 4 of 5

    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Richard and Julie Young talk about the memories made through holidays and raising children in their home on 24th Street. If the project to widen the street to the north goes through, their home is certain to be torn down.

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  5. 5 of 5

    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    The home of Richard and Julie Young was built in the 1920's and sits directly on 24th Street. If plans to widen the street to the north are put into action, the home will have to be torn down.

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BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

Scott and Kari Heilman's home on C Street, just near the S-curve of 23rd Street, is firmly in the cross-hairs of city plans to widen nearby 24th Street.

Under both build options being debated, their house would come down, as each calls for straightening the S-curve and for the road to go through the couple's backyard and house.

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ABOUT THESE STORIES

This is the second part of a two-part package exploring the city of Bakersfield's plans to widen 24th Street downtown.

TODAY: Residents hope to protect the homes they love from demolition. The city explains how it would compensate property owners.

SUNDAY: How the current 24th Street widening plans came to be. And a little history of the Westchester neighborhood.

On a recent Saturday, Scott showed what's at stake.

He stood in his immaculately landscaped backyard, pointing out the salvia, sweet pea, star jasmine and other plants he's added plus the very photogenic vegetable garden he'd set up to be organically fed through an automatic system.

He swept his arm across all of it, showing where the wider 24th Street would cut through the property.

"The edge of the road comes right through our bedroom," said Scott, who works for a landscape architecture firm.

The house, built in 1926, shows as much care inside as in the back yard. Kari works for the Arts Council of Kern and the walls in every room are lined with colorful art.

There are lots of unique features to the house itself, which Scott describes as a mixture of Tudor and English Cottage styles: the steeped roof, arched doorways, original oak floors, sunny kitchen and big clawfoot tub in the bathroom.

Scott bought the house through friends who were clients of his. They'd told him there was talk of widening the street.

"He said that, 'Oh, they've been talking about this for years and it will probably never happen,'" Scott said. "It was years ago, and the market was still good. ... It wasn't something I really worried about too much because I understand how long it takes for things to get done in cities."

"I didn't necessarily think that this day would ever come," he said wryly.

The couple conceded that the S-curve could be improved. Kari said when it rains, accidents are common.

Scott pointed out the living room window at the white bollards that can be seen in the median between 23rd and 24th streets. They're bent from having been hit by cars.

"We understand improvements are needed," Kari said. "But of course we want to keep our home. We love our home, and we've put a lot of work into it. ... You pour yourself into these homes because you love it."

Both are in the camp that opposes either of the two plans to widen 24th.

Scott is from West Virginia and met Kari after moving to Bakersfield. The couple got married just last fall, and Kari remembered their engagement party in this house, as well as many other parties with friends.

Kari likes to walk their dog, Sydney, through the neighborhood, and they both like to walk downtown to Dagny's and First Friday events.

"It's my little slice of the East Coast in Bakersfield, so I certainly wouldn't want to lose that," Scott said of his neighborhood.

"Everyone lives here for a reason," Kari said. "We all love it. We all want to stay."

Nearby the Heilmans' house is the Youngs' home, on the north side of 24th Street. Julie and Richard Young bought the house in 1982 and raised their two sons there.

"We were hoping to live in this house as long as we could," Julie said. But if the city chooses its preferred plan, to widen the street to the north, the Youngs' home would come down.

The house was built in the early 1920s and has two stories above ground, plus an attic and basement. The Youngs, who own lube and car washes and commercial property, are the third owners and bought it not long after it was sold by the family of the original owner, Edmund Ernest Holm, an Englishman.

They've heard lots of stories about it: Holm's first wife was the first woman dentist in the city and ran her practice out of the basement. The house also is said to have been a brothel and speakeasy at one point, and "bathtub gin" was made upstairs.

It's also well-preserved. Julie walked through the house and pointed out ornate brass chandeliers, original push-button light switches on the walls, original and unscarred woodwork around the fireplace, ceiling and doorways.

They've kept a lot, but took down the old-fashioned green velvet wallpaper they found when they moved in.

Julie said she brought her sons home from the hospital to this house and loves to host over-the-top Christmas parties in it.

And even though they call their house "the money pit," they love it, she said. "We brought this house up, so it would look good on 24th Street."

"I can't even imagine them tearing this house down," Julie said. "I love my house. I hate to see them tear my house down."

Julie said she is against widening the street and that the city should route traffic to Highway 204 instead.

"This is history," she said. "I say they can easily tie it on to (Highway) 204 and leave Westchester (alone)."

Richard, on the other hand, said he likes the Westchester Parkway idea being proposed by one group of Westchester residents. That idea is to take the option to widen the street to the north, but make most of the residential streets into cul-de-sacs, so they don't intersect with 24th Street, and add eight-foot walls, sidewalks, trees and bike lanes along 24th Street.

"That's what I've always visualized it looking like," he said. "I'm not going to hold up progress."

But at the same time, he added," I will do what I can to keep this house from being torn down."

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