I moved to Bakersfield in the Summer of 1989. My employer was located across the street from the downtown business district.
Back then, most of the businesses didn’t attract much daytime attention. They seemed dark inside and the signage was often hand-painted on the front window and generally was unremarkable.
But at night…some of the businesses came to life.
This Southern San Joaquin Valley city; birthplace of the Bakersfield Sound, rich with fertile farmland that topped even richer deposits of crude oil – spawned rustic, lively and raucous bars.
They had names like Spike’s, The Mask, Goose Loonies and Mannequins.
There was Sud’s Tavern, Matches Coffee House and The Mint. The Padre was there and the Fox and Tejon Theaters were rekindling.
Some bars have since relocated; some have been reborn through new ownership and/or undergone several transformations. Others only exist in memories and old photographs – captured on film.
In their time – these downtown bars, pubs and saloons were thumping, flickering beacons in the relatively underpopulated region of Eye Street and Wall Street Alley.
But always at the center of it all was the great, glowing, heart – Guthrie’s Alley Cat.
The owner – as iconic and ostentatious as his neon sign – Kenny Reed has been a driving force of the downtown business scene since 1976. He loves to laugh, and in my experience, he has never failed to lead others in a chorus of mirth. I have always admired him, and I’m proud to call him a friend. He and his daughter Trish are as essential to downtown Bakersfield as a sing along of “Friends In Low Places” blaring from the jukebox at the Cat on a Friday night.
Even if I wasn’t a young photographer – predisposed to be drawn to such things – I would have fallen regardless.
From my very first visit; the staff, owner and utterly intoxicating atmosphere captivated me (alcohol notwithstanding). And so it was – Guthrie’s instantly became my adopted hangout.
I lived in Bakersfield until 1999. Since then I’ve moved several times and changed careers. I don’t go to bars anymore – partly because drinking is not my “thing” (nor has it really ever been)…and partly because Guthrie’s is too far away from my current home in Northern California – and there will never be a replacement.
On this website you’ll find images made from scanned 35mm negatives.
The nineties didn’t know about smartphones or digital photography (though the technology might have existed – just not at the consumer level). Since I worked as a photojournalist and was located across the street, I ALWAYS had a camera with me.
Also, I had a partial ownership stake in the first Tattoo shop in the Alley. All American Tattoo & Photo (now called Naked Al’s Tattoo) had a full photographic studio and darkroom where I would process photos then quickly return to Guthrie’s and other establishments and gift them to my friends (prompting one Guthrie’s bartender: Mike McGraw – to bestow me with a nickname that stuck: Eduardo Rapido or Fast Eddie).
Back then, a person walking around with a 35mm camera and flash garnered a lot of attention.
It was a novelty and people responded to it in big ways; often yelling something like “Hey Photo Dude! Take my picture!”
And I always did. I never refused.
If I knew you…If I didn’t know you…For whatever reason…perhaps a need for validation (on either side). I took at least a single frame of anyone who called attention to themselves and the results are what you see here on this website.
Also, there is lot of homegrown music in Bakersfield; something was always happening somewhere along the Alley with live rock, blues, country, folk, etc. as the backdrop. At the time their names were:
Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Korn, Cradle of Thorns, Big House, The Sideburns, Mento Buru, Slim the Drifter, Ronnie Wayne, Go Dog Go!, Ain’t No Thang, Funky Town, Donny and the Penetrators, The Smokin’ Armadillos, Sneakers, Peter Will, Spike 1000, Diver Down, House of Cards, The Saddle Cats and many more…
Many of the musicians in these bands were friends of mine. I was a handy resource; a photographic fixture – so a lot of them asked me to take their photos for the marketing collateral and CD covers for their self published albums.
Others in the Alley were folks I’d seldom if ever seen or been acquainted with. Often times they were Kern county residents out for a night of drinking when a family member visited or they were celebrating a birthday, bachelor/bachelorette party, etc.
A typical scenario would have me walking between Guthrie’s and the Tattoo shop, or Loonie’s or Sud’s and someone would call out. The interactions were almost always fleeting and would last less than 30 seconds or so.
After which they seldom would ask for contact information or how to locate me to arrange to pick up a print. It was as if the taking of the picture was enough.
There was always someone to photograph.
And for ten years I did just that. I processed the negatives, reviewed them and planned to one day print them and gift them – if I had the time.
Now things have changed.
I still don’t have the time but the distribution channel is MUCH different and doesn’t require printing. eMail is fine or even publishing to the Web.
However I did deliver a lot of pictures. I’m sure it fostered a lot of good will. I still feel that sentiment today and I’m grateful for it. I regularly see my pictures on social media postings and the websites of many of my musician friends. Several of the photos found their way to the walls of the places I’ve mentioned.
The most lasting examples can be found at Guthrie’s.
The film was Kodak TMAX 400 ASA and Fujicolor 100 ASA.
The camera equipment I used most of the time was:
Nikon 24mm f/2.0
Nikon 20mm f/2.8
Nikon 85mm f/1.8
Leica 50mm f/2.5 Summarit
This content is presented as originally captured. It is an honest depiction of a time and place with no intent of conveying any message or opinion. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.