April 19 – Bakersfield City Council may soon designate the downtown Woolworth Building as a Cultural Resource, a classification that would preserve the historic nature of the building well into the future.
On Wednesday, council is due to vote on listing the building on the city’s Register of Historic Places. The building’s new owners, Moneywise Wealth Management, pursued the designation in hopes that it would honor and protect a distinctive feature of downtown Bakersfield.
“It’s a way for us to publicly acknowledge to the community that we care about the history of this building, and we’re doing our best to preserve it and keep it as the gem that it is,” the official said. Moneywise co-owner, David. Anderson.
Moneywise bought Woolworth last year to relocate its office and make additional improvements to the property. The company plans to retain the classic 1950s canteen – which is Woolworth’s last operating canteen in the country – as well as open a music and events room in the basement and house vendors in the first floor. The third floor would be reserved for residences.
“We were already fans of the building. We were already fans of the lunch counter,” Anderson continued. “We thought, ‘Oh my God, here’s an opportunity to do something even bigger than find a home for Moneywise. “”
Built over 11 months between 1949 and 1950, according to a report prepared by the city, Woolworth’s exemplifies the Art Moderne architectural style, which is known for its long horizontal lines and sloping curves. At the time of its construction, Woolworth’s was one of the largest retail chains in the world, and its fivepenny retail model was one of the first to offer customers the ability to select goods without the help from a clerk, the report said.
The lunch counter now functions as a must-visit downtown destination, sometimes attracting tourists from across the country.
“I think this is a really exciting time for downtown,” said Bakersfield City Councilman Andrae Gonzales. “We have property owners here who are serious about investing in downtown Bakersfield, who have a vision for the future of downtown while preserving some of its past. They see what many of We see in the Woolworth building, that it’s an asset to the community, it’s an historic asset.
The cultural resource designation would prevent major changes from being made to the building without City Council approval. If approved on Wednesday, Woolworth’s will join the relatively short list of Bakersfield sites that have been designated for historic preservation.
Other places on the city’s Register of Historic Places are the Fox Theater, Union Cemetery, and Jastro House.
Moneywise also hopes to place Woolworth’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
Woolworth’s, located at 1400 19th Street, is currently closed while renovations are designed. Construction of the upgrades is expected to begin in October and take approximately 14 months.
The Bakersfield Historic Preservation Commission voted to recommend that city council designate the building as a cultural resource in March. Commissioner Stephen Montgomery said no one spoke against the recommendation.
He personally welcomed this designation.
“It’s the kind of thing that gives people a reason to come downtown because you have something to do,” he said. “These things add to the quality of life. It’s not just about going out to a chain restaurant out of town. It’s about having a city with a strong and vibrant central core.”
You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You can also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.