BY JENNIFER SELF The Bakersfield Californian
Groundbreaking shovels are the celebrities of the hand-tool community -- they come out only for VIP appearances, never do any of the dirty work and then slink from view when the cameras stop clicking. They're such a rare breed, in fact, that the Kern County Museum doesn't even own any. Staff was forced to borrow a half-dozen of the shiny gold earth movers for a ceremony Friday to break ground on a new research center that will one day house the thousands of images that tell the story of the county's history.
But if the board that runs the museum is successful in its mission to land donors like the foundation that is funding the latest project, investing in groundbreaking shovels might be smart.
The Bakersfield Californian Foundation Research Center and Historic Archive is the official name of what will be the approximately 3,000-square-foot building, located near the entrance to the Chester Avenue museum. The family that owns the city's oldest media company donated $150,000 to build the center, a fitting contribution considering a portion of the 400,000 photographic images in the museum's possession were gifts of the newspaper. The photos are now being stored in less-than-ideal conditions in a basement underneath the museum's Chamber of Commerce building.
"This facility will allow access (by the public) on a grand scale," said museum executive director Roger Perez at the ceremony. "These photos are jewels of Kern County history."
After the ceremony, museum curator Lori Wear led a tour of the underground archives, highlights of which included a rifle owned by city founder Thomas Baker, vintage guitars made in Bakersfield, portraits of a variety of city pioneers, and an extensive -- and kind of creepy -- selection of taxidermied wildlife.