BAKERSFIELD, CA - A local developer continues to find new facets in a diamond in the rough in a downtown Bakersfield building on the corner of 18th Street and Chester Avenue. This spring, Sam Abed removed the stucco exterior to uncover giant pillars on the old bank. And, as restoration work continues, he's found even more.
Although they have never been documented, it's been said that there was a tunnel system running underneath Bakersfield in the early 1900's. And, Abed might have uncovered an opening.
"There's a lot of history here," said Abed.
Abed has uncovered pillars of the past on the outside of the building.
"I think this building is very important to me and I guess to a lot of people, and I would love to restore it and put it back in its original shape," said Abed.
It was built in 1910 and was the Security Trust Bank. Recent renovations uncovered what made up the bank's safe, metal railroad tracks secured in thick cement. And down below, in what used to be a basement banquet hall, Abed uncovered something else.
"Here's that spot that, we thought if it was connected to a Chinese tunnel, it would be right here," said Abed pointing to a hole in the basement ground.
A perfectly square hole in the ground that goes nowhere now, but might have, back in the prohibition years. That's when this part of Bakersfield was China Town. They'd tunnel from basement to basement originally to stay cool, but soon, they led to bars, brothels, and gambling halls.
It's believed many collapsed and filled during the 1952 earthquake.
"You never know," said Abed, "But, it's covered in dirt. So, we don't know if the whole tunnel was filled with dirt because it's just really rare. But, we just don't know."
In the basement, the plumbing is still in place from an old bathroom. There is another safe, and an outdated electrical panel is still mounted on the wall.
"This is one of the best projects that I have ever got to work on. Just seeing the transformation that has come so far, I'm just really happy with it," said contractor Steve Moreland of S & L Building.
Future plans still call for taking the building back to its original past. It's a nostalgic portal now, that also might have led to somewhere else all those years ago.
"Every day somebody passes by and tells me 'Oh, I remember eating here or I remember drinking here. Or, I remember rolling the dice on that curb.' So there is a lot of history in this," said Abed.
Abed says he hopes to have the renovation complete by the end of August.
He already has a bank and two restaurant franchises considering moving into the space when it is done.