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Bakersfield At A Glance

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

With 350,000 diverse residents, Bakersfield is located 110 miles north of Los Angeles, California, and greets visitors entering the city with its name on a bright yellow arch. Noted in songs, find out why many consider Bakersfield the Nashville of the West.

Brief History

There is evidence of Native American presence in this marshland area dating back thousands of years. More recently, the Yokuts lived and hunted on the land and water of the Kern River Delta. It wasn't until after the Mexican War of Independence that Mexicans moved to the area and remain a strong presence today. Bakersfield was settled in 1859 by a few groups of families who traveled north in search of home sites through the El Tejon pass in what is today the San Joaquin Valley of southern California. One of the first settlers was lawyer Colonel Thomas Baker, who moved there in 1863 and offered future travelers the chance to rest on his land while passing through. In time, these travelers planned ahead to rest at "Colonel Baker's field," thus providing the town with its name. The town was laid out by Colonel Baker in 1869 and had several businesses and professional services within two years, including 50 school children.

Incorporated in 1873, the same year Bakersfield became the county seat, it intentionally became disincorporated in 1876 as a ploy to get rid of its marshal that many disliked, but incorporated again 22 years later. The city was the one of the first in the U.S. to adopt the Council-Manager form of government where the City Council is composed of one member of each ward who then decides on city policies, adopts ordinances, appoints committee members and chooses a city manager.

More people came with California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s and later to work in the oilfields. The continual flooding from the river and the great earthquake of 1952 and its subsequent aftershocks did not dissuade Bakersfield migrants. Recent decades showed Bakersfield to be one of the fastest growing cities in the state with a mix of white, African American, Asian and other cultures.


Known for its diverse economy, top employers in Bakersfield are in oil production and agriculture (Macpherson Oil Co. and Aera Energy). Other employers include: natural gas, aerospace, mining, manufacturing, and food processing. Corporate headquarters for Target, Sun World and Rain For Rent are located here.

Regions and Neighborhoods

As with much of California after 2008, home foreclosures were widespread. Its strong rental market today make the city a real estate investment haven. Bakersfield is broken down into regions based on directional names, such as the little developed Southeast industrial region or the formerly rural Northwest region. Within regions are neighborhoods named after landmarks or planned communities. The Downtown (or Central) region has the oldest portions of the city and the business district. Many of Bakersfield's historic structures were destroyed in the aftershocks of the 1952 earthquake, but a few remain. Located outside of town, Rio Bravo and Tuscany residential neighborhoods of the Northeast are quiet, whereas the College Heights area is a more lively area due to Bakersfield College with homes dating to the 1950s. The National Civic League (NCL) in 1990 gave Bakersfield an All-American City Award for "cross-sector collaboration, inclusiveness/diversity, civic engagement, innovation and achievements."


The largest elementary school district in the state is found right in Bakersfield, along with middle school and public and private high schools. Higher education can be found at Bakersfield College (a community college established in 1913), California State University at Bakersfield, National University, University of LaVerne, and Santa Barbara Business College, among other colleges.


The city even has its own country music style, known as the Bakersfield Sound. Pioneered by the music of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and others in the 1950s and 1960s, the then-new sound of country music featured steel guitar, drums, fiddle and electric guitar providing a crisp sound over the stringed orchestras used at the time, which gave the city the nickname "Nashville West". Check out the music display at the Kern County Museum. Aside from its own music style, Bakersfield is mentioned in numerous songs, as performed by such artists/bands as Rolling Stones, Bob Weir and Social Distortion.


There are numerous routes and beltways connecting the city to elsewhere. However, Bakersfield is one of the largest cities in the U.S. that is not directly connected to an Interstate highway, although that may soon change with the possible conversion of State Routes 99 and 58 to the interstate system. Golden Empire Transit has bus routes that serve the city and passenger rail service, operated by Amtrak, is provided by the San Joaquin Route. The city is considered a transportation hub.

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About The Author

Elizabeth R. Elstien has worked in real estate for over 15 years as a real estate...

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