The changes are apparent too.
The hip side of Bakersfield’s emerging frontier can be seen in the Padre Hotel, a historic landmark with a red neon sign that’s the main feature of the evening skyline in a city that’s always grown, ever.
The hotel opened in 1928, a luxury hangout for the Bakersfield oilman, and has since charted the city’s uneven trajectory. Closed for years, the Padre reopened in 2010 as a boutique attraction after a renovation funded in part by government-backed loans. The new-western atmosphere has become a kind of model for the rediscovery of the city.
A pop-art drawing of a cowgirl looking over her shoulder, captioned “That Dog’ll Hunt,” covers the wall behind the registration desk. At happy hour, the Brimstone lobby bar gets packed, the red felt pool table occupied for hours.
The question Rachel Parlier heard repeatedly during her senior year at San Diego State University, where she majored in marketing, was, “Why do you want to go back to Bakersfield?”
After graduating from Ridgeview High School here, Parlier headed to the Pacific Coast, usually a one-way trip for city teenagers.
But she returned, to what locals call Bak-o, astonishing her college friends. At 22, she is now the Director of Digital Media Marketing for the Bakersfield Condors, a popular minor league ice hockey affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers.
“If you had asked me that question in my freshman year, I don’t know how I would have answered,” Parlier said.
San Diego, along with the Los Angeles and San Francisco metro areas, has had the highest inflation rates of any city in the country over the past year. Housing prices, in particular, are driving the increases. The median home price in Bakersfield is $237,000; in San Francisco, it’s $1.2 million. Recently, a startup started offering a sleeper in a bunk bed in San Francisco for $1,200 a month.
Parlier missed home. The best chicken fried steak. His family. What she calls the “big city, country feel” that is Bakersfield’s signature.
“We’re growing so fast now that I don’t know if we’re going to keep that country feeling,” she said. “I guess we’ll see.”
Indeed, the Padre will soon have more competition.
Three hotels are being built in the city and three more are in the planning stage. This push has made Bakersfield the hottest hotel construction market in California.
This in a city that, for decades, Johnny Carson derided on “The Tonight Show” as the definition of provincial monotony. Carson admitted he once bombed at a Bakersfield nightclub and never fully forgave the town.
“We’ve always been extremely defensive when people say negative things about our community,” said Nicholas Ortiz, president of the Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce. “Inland California has traditionally been part of California, but also outside of California.”
Ortiz, 37, was born and raised in Bakersfield, then headed — with no thought of returning — to school at the University of California, Santa Cruz. There he met his future wife, also from Bakersfield, and the two began their careers in the tech mecca of San Jose.
Back then, just over a decade ago, the couple were paying $1,100 a month for a 900 square foot apartment. Ortiz said that was overkill.
He visited San Jose recently. The same unit rents for three times that amount, while he and his wife pay less for a 2,700 square foot home with a pool in Bakersfield. Ortiz and his wife have two children, now 6 and 7, and Ortiz said if they had stayed in Silicon Valley, they would probably only consider starting a family now.
Among other projects, Ortiz worked with city officials on a new Bakersfield brand campaign. It will be a way to sell the city to those who still consider it the butt of a joke.
The aim is to expand an economy still largely dependent on the volatile agriculture and oil industries, drawing in part on a tech sector that is seeing its political stock plummet in many coastal communities. The Bakersfield oil fields – and those in surrounding Kern County – account for more than half of California’s oil production.
“How far are we moving towards an LA-like urban model while still respecting the fact that our resource-intensive economy is what we rely on?” Ortiz said. “At the same time, how do we diversify our industries to protect against downturns?
The city’s nascent tech industry received a huge vote of confidence last month when Bitwise, a Fresno-based tech hub, announced plans to open a new operation in Bakersfield.
Irma Olguin, 38, was born in a small town outside of Fresno. She co-founded Bitwise in 2013, which has since trained 4,000 coding students and brought 1,000 tech jobs to Fresno. The company recently announced that it has secured $27 million in new investment, which will fund its expansion here.
“Bakersfield’s story and the issues it faced are so similar to those facing Fresno,” Olguin said, adding that “the gritty and flippancy of the people resonates.”
“For too long, young people in the Central Valley have gone away to pursue their careers,” she said. “We want to make sure they don’t have to anymore.”
Young people like to have fun, never something that Bakersfield gave off. But if the microbrewery metric is any measure, the city is rapidly changing with its population.
Temblor Brewing Co. occupies a large warehouse-style space along Buck Owens Boulevard, where the country star’s Crystal Palace remains the city’s top tourist attraction.
Temblor is more San Francisco than Central Valley, with its stainless steel tanks and leather sofas. It hosts the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop on Tuesday evenings.
“The more young people that move in, the more demand there is for better restaurants and beer and other things that big cities have,” said 31-year-old Temblor COO Francesca Colombo. years, who returned from San Francisco to Bakersfield.
Since Temblor opened four years ago, three more local breweries have started up across the city. Colombo doesn’t care about the competition because of what they say about Bakersfield and its management.
“It’s not as boring here as it used to be,” Colombo said.