Thursday, January 31, 2013

RIP Vernon Chappel, ex Bakersfield College cheerleader, and keep Audrey Chavez in your thoughts as she battles an illness

  * ... RIP: Vernon Chappel, a legendary cheerleader who epitomized the spirit of college life at Bakersfield College and Cal State Bakersfield, has passed away. Most recently Chappel was a minister in Raleigh, N.C., but many folks remember when Vernon was an enthusiastic BC cheerleader in the late 1970s. He was at BC when the Renegades won the Junior Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and he later went on to CSUB to help cheer the basketball team in its march to the national finals. Marlene Morales, head of communications over at the Chain Cohn Stiles law firm, told me he was scheduled to return here to conduct a sermon at St. Paul's when he died in his sleep. He was just 56 years old. (photos courtesy of Marlene Morales)

* ... AUDREY: One of our community's most tireless volunteers, Audrey Chavez, is hospitalized with a bleeding disorder and is in need of blood donations. Audrey is the founder and leader of the Bakersfield AIDS Project and Ricky’s Retreat AIDS Hospice. Her blood type is A positive and you can donate in her behalf at Houchin Community Blood Bank (her account is under the number 779). The blood drive goes until February 9. Please keep Audrey and her family in your thoughts.

 * ... FIRST FRIDAY: There are a lot of reasons to head downtown for First Friday, including getting a bite to eat at one of the growing number of downtown restaurants (Uricchio's Trattoria, Muertos, Mama Roomba, Chef's Choice Noodle Bar, The Mark, Mexicali among them). One of the more impressive openings will be held at The Metro Galleries (19th and Eye streets) where the work of Betty Leonor will be featured. This is some really stunning stuff that makes Metro a must stop during your walk around downtown. Also at 6 p.m. there will be a ribbon cutting for Al Mendez's remarkable mural on the side of Front Porch Music next to The Padre Hotel.

* ... BURGLARY: There have been a rash of burglaries and break-ins in the neighborhoods up near Bakersfield College. I am told homes on Princeton, Radcliffe and Shattuck have been hit and neighbors are now alert and reporting any suspicious activity.

 * ... VETERAN: This note courtesy of reader Linda Burton: "Yesterday on the corner of Snow and Coffee roads I saw a heartbreaking sight. One of our valued elderly war veterans stood in the rain, his head held low as he rested against his cane and vehicle with a sign that read; 'life is hard, help if you can.' I stopped and gave him a card for groceries and asked what was happening. He said he’d been struggling financially, needed a new pacemaker and was trying to convince the Veteran's Administration to pay for it. I asked him to please get out of cold rain and to deal with it another day, but he refused. I felt furious and saddened that this poor man who had given so much for so many was reduced this. Then just as I was leaving I saw a young woman walk up with a bag of groceries, followed by a young man who stopped to offer cash.  It occurred to me what a wonderful community we live in spite of our broken federal system. We all need to do more for our senior citizens folks, this kind of thing should never happen!"

 * ... MEMORIES: Bernice Johnson wrote me a nice note sharing with me some of her old Bakersfield memories. The first time she had a Mexican meal, for example, was at Sinaloa when it was located in the current Wood Grower's building. It was the night before one of her girlfriends was getting married, some time in 1951. She also shopped at the Green Frog Market when it was located at California and Chester avenue, and later in the 1980s used to drive from Shafter to eat at Banducci's Corner.

 * ... TEA ROOM: And finally, Jackie Ardell wrote to with the answer to the name of the old tea room that was located on Truxtun Avenue. "I used to worked there in the 1940s.  It was Betty Lee's Tea Room." Another reader, Jean Gillian, remembers Betty Lee's as a large home with a wrap around porch. "The owner served fabulous meals but also had rooms to let for single women for it was difficult to find housing in the 1940s.  Still remember the owner for she bought her meat from a butcher and owner of Stephens Market on Chester and Fourth Street. She was a large well dressed woman and  knew what she wanted when placing her orders and watched that the butcher didn’t place his fingers on the scale when weighing the meat!"

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bakersfield Observed takes a walk down memory lane, recalling Frager's and Fontana's Pie Shop and the Plunge on Union Avenue, among others

 * ... MEMORIES: 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.

 * ... OLD BAKO: 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."

 * ... CHINESE KITCHEN: 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 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."

 * ... POOL: Janeen Carter-Smith doesn't consider herself an old timer but she does fondly remember the Plunge and its famous neon sign on South Uniion 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?

 * ... FRAGER'S: 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 names 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."

 * ... PEARL HARBOR: 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 black-outs (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."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cal State Bakersfield Athletic Director Jeff Konya is a finalist for the AD position at Cal State Northridge, and a ton of memories of old Bako

* ... CSUB: It looks like Cal State Bakersfield athletic director Jeff Konya is being courted by Cal State Northridge to become the director of athletics for the CSUN Matadors. Konya is apparently a finalist for the job, which came open when Rick Mazzuto left in November. Konya came to CSUB two years ago from Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, replacing Rudy Carvajal as athletic director. The loss of Konya would be a major blow to Cal State, which is now competing on the Division 1 level in college athletics and has just entered the Western Athletic Conference. Stay tuned.

 * ... GREEN FROG: From Santa Maria, Jerry Kirkland writes that he remembers when there was  a Green Frog Market on California and Chester. "When I was a junior at BHS in 1950-51, I worked there after school and on Saturdays, boxing groceries and stocking shelves. Oddly enough, we still use the term 'box boys' even though we haven't actually used boxes to take out groceries in many years.  We did in those days and it was about the hardest job I ever had since you had to literally carry the boxes to the customer's cars. Very few shopping carts in those days.  I started at 75 cents an hour but that was later raised to $1. Big money. Paul Taylor was the owner and manager and a really nice guy to work for.  Seems like maybe he was partners with the guy - his name excapes me - who had the store on Bernard and Alta Vista.  There was a full service butcher shop with sides of beef stored in a large walk-in refrigerator and the butchers would cut steaks or roasts according to the customer's wishes.  There was also a bakery in the front of the store, a Smith's if I'm not mistaken.  One day an older lady parked out front got her foot on the wrong pedal and came over the sidewalk and through the wall into the bakery section. Ruined a few pastries but no one was hurt."

* ... LITTER: Brent Stratton wrote to weigh in on the La Cresta homeowner who was upset that the Bakersfield police would not act on a man he caught littering in his neighborhood.  "I just wanted to point out that unless I'm mistaken, littering is an infraction and California law does not allow for a citizen to make a citizen's arrest (or an officer to arrest for something like this that did not occur in their presence). I don't believe it's selective enforcement, I just don't think it's legal for them to act  and would potentially open them (taxpayers) up to civil liability. Something to consider."

* ... HONOR FLIGHT: One of the most uplifting operations in town is the Honor Flight, in which World War II veterans are flown to Washington, D.C., to visit the war memorials. One of the driving forces behind the local effort is Lili Marsh, operations manager of the Petroleum Club. She told me there are two more flights planned - in the spring and in the fall - and wants more veterans to reach out to take advantage of this opportunity. "We have many applications, more than enough to fill a flight, but every time I read the obits it seems like another World War II vet has passed away. And I always think, 'I wonder why they didn’t fly with us?'" Lili can be reached at (661) 544-VETS. (photo courtesy of Jessica Frey)

 * ... OLD BAKO: Carol Owen gave me a call to answer a reader's question about the name of a restaurant that was located next door to Sinaloa, when that eatery was in the current location of Wool Grower's. "I believe it was called Frager's and it was very fancy and it featured enchilladas, tamales and fried chicken of all things," she said. "And I wonder if anyone remembers the old Tea Room on Truxtun that had the best home cooked meals. It was in an old two-story house down near the Civic and people used to be lined up at 5 p.m. trying to get in."

 * ... MEMORY: Elinor Grant also remembers the Mexican eatery that was in the current Wool Grower's location, and recalls that its specialty was a small green pepper, stuffed with cheese, dipped in batter and deep fried. "What a delight," she wrote. The memory still lingers."