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Old Highway 399, Part 8: Bakersfield (BR 99, CA 204)

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And now, our last leg as we follow old US 399 into the City of Bakersfield. This is a town of particular interest to me, because I use it to berate my friend Kevin who grew up nearby. Despite this, Bakersfield is the major hub of the southern San Joaquin Valley, equidistant between Fresno and Los Angeles, and the 11th largest city in the state at 333,719 [2009].

In antiquity, the region was settled by the Yokuts Indians as far back as eight millenia, first explored in 1776 by Fr Francisco Garces on his missionary travels into Alta California. Despite the Yokuts' long standing in the area, they were driven out in just a few short years by settlers crowding the region to strike it rich after gold was found in 1851. Like much of western Kern county, Bakersfield was marsh and swamp in those days when the first white settlers attempted to farm the region, largely owing to the frequent threat of flooding from the wild Kern River. What would be future Bakersfield was actually an island in the flood plain then, christened Kern Island by the first settlers on it in 1860.

Despite early failures and the constant threat of malaria, several projects struggled mightily to make the area suitable for habitation. One of the strangest was that of Colonel Thomas Baker, a state senator, who in 1861 hatched a plan to connect Kern Lake all the way to San Francisco Bay with navigable waterway and moved to Kern Island in 1862 to make his plan a reality. Baker certainly had the chops, as a trained civil engineer, but neither had the money nor the staying power to see his project through. Still, by 1865, Baker had dammed Buena Vista Lake to control the water flow and dug several large ditches diverting water from the other local lakes and ponds, eventually reclaiming over 87,000 acres. While his bigger aim had failed, he nevertheless received patent to the lands he had reclaimed, which were called Baker's Field. Baker platted out a new community as settlers moved to the region, and the new town adopted the name Bakersfield in honour of the Colonel. His death in 1872 of typhoid fever was so wrenching to the town that all business halted until his funeral in respect; ironically, almost exactly a century after his death, the county put back over 2 billion gallons of water to recreate the marsh he had originally strangled (Part 7).

In the city's early days, settlement was slow and despite incorporating in 1873, the same year the county seat moved from Havilah (Part 5), the town eventually decided to disincorporate due to internal squabbling and sluggish growth. The modern city did not reincorporate until 1898, when the town was over four times its size at its original incorporation (2,626 from 600). Steady migration led to a stably growing population over the next several decades even as many of the city's historic buildings were ruined by aftershocks of the 7.5-magnitude 1952 Kern county quake, killing four people in the city. By 1980, the population broke 100,000 and doubled again within two decades. Today the now heavily urbanized city has struggled in the modern era with air pollution, receiving the American Lung Association's worst ozone rating in 2006 and second-most-polluted overall with regards to particulate matter. Similarly, although ever-present in popular culture, Bakersfield still contends with a sometimes negative reputation, most notably promulgated by Johnny Carson's famously derogatory Tonight Show monologues. Nevertheless, the town counts many notable natives and former residents, including former Chief Justice Earl Warren, 41st President George H. W. Bush (the Bush House still stands from when the Bushes moved to Bakersfield in 1949), Football Hall of Famer Frank Gifford and County Music Hall of Famer Merle Haggard. Its major industries remain oil and agriculture, much as they were in the town's infancy.

[US 99, US 399 and US 466 in Bakersfield, 1947.] There are no less than two potential termini for US 399 in Bakersfield proper, prior to the 1962 US 99 freeway, of course, as we look at the 1947 ACSC map at right. For those unfamiliar with US Highway 99, this was the Golden State Highway and the northern portion of the Pacific Highway, the main arterial of the central west coast prior to Interstate 5. Its receiving highway in British Columbia is still BC 99, despite the fact that US 99 was decommissioned in stages in all three states from 1964 to 1968 as Interstate 5 was completed. California still maintains the largest piece of US 99 that the Interstate did not obliterate, 424 miles between Wheeler Ridge north of the Grapevine and Red Bluff, now today CA 99 (Oregon and Washington also have their own state 99s, and Oregon even maintains OR 99E and OR 99W), not including US 99W and US 99E in Sacramento which are not part of CA 99 now. Caltrans has persistently planned to make the freeway portions of CA 99 into a new Interstate (likely Interstate 7 or Interstate 9), most likely the section between Wheeler Ridge and Sacramento which is already largely freeway or expressway, truncating CA 99 to Sacramento. This is unlikely to happen in the near future, as there is still much of the southern CA 99 that is not Interstate-standard.

In Greenfield, just east of the end of modern CA 119, old US 399 met old US 99, which is now modern BUSINESS CA 99. After that, things get a little murky, a combination of a relatively obscure US highway and an area that is poorly mapped historically. It is reasonable to assume that, at least originally, US 399 ended at US 99 (though we lack the map evidence to prove that for sure); credence to this is given by the fact that the Taft Highway always ended at US 99. Note that this was not the end of LRN 140; LRN 140 continued south of Greenfield and then east of US 99 through Arvin to US 466 (modern CA 58). There is no evidence this was ever part of the US 399 routing, and was only ever signed as CA 223, the present highway occupying it after the 1964 renumbering.

For some reason, US 399 was then extended with US 99 on a useless multiplex into Bakersfield proper as shown on the map inset, although its exact terminus is uncertain. The most likely terminus was at the old Edison Highway-Golden State Highway junction, which no longer exists in its original form, but can be approximated; however, it is also possible, though less likely, that US 399 ended at the Garces traffic circle. All of these possible termini are useless concurrencies, and all run along LRNs 4 and 141 (we'll discuss LRN 141 when we get to it). Since we'll be on old US 99, we'll close the gap to new CA 99 at the end by clinching CA 204 while we're here. Bonus!

Thanks for coming along on the ride. Send your remembrances of old US 399 to ckaiser@floodgap.com.


Taft Highway (KernCo 365V)

Despite CA 119's terminus at CA 99 (Part 7), the actual alignment keeps going into Greenfield, this time as a county road. We won't be on it long, though.

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Looking back at the first CA 119 shield on the interchange.

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Greenfield, named for the local farming fields. Originally Delkern, a contraction of Kern Delta [i.e., the Kern River], the new name was applied sometime in the 1950s. The modern town has 5,381 residents.

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Approaching Union Avenue, the old alignment of US 99.

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Intersection.

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Looking south at a BR 99 shield package; this signage along Union Avenue is now signed BR 99, and its signage is well-maintained by Kern county and the component cities in most places in the areas where it is not still state highway.

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This is the end of the Taft Hwy, and the (assumed) original terminus of US 399. For the other terminus (termini?), we turn left onto Union and head north into Bakersfield as LRN 4 and the old Golden State Hwy.

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Union Avenue/Golden State Highway (Business Route 99)

NB Union Ave/BR 99/old US 399.

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This section of the old Golden State Hwy is essentially an uncontrolled expressway.

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Turn-off for the municipal airport. Parallel to us, not visible here, is Chester Avenue heading northwest into the old downtown. From 1926 to around 1934, the original route of US 99 went up Chester Avenue due north towards Oildale. In 1934, a new bypass routing was constructed on Union; since US 399 was not designated until 1934, it could never have been on Chester. For that reason, we continue straight on Union, ignoring the parallel older routing.

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Ming Avenue and entering Bakersfield proper.

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Approaching the CA 58 freeway, built (this section) in 1976. The freeway was never part of US 466 as originally signed; we'll discuss that in a moment.

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Onramp to CA 58 EB towards Mojave.

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Overlooking the freeway.

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Brundage Lane. Let's talk briefly about US Highway 466. US 466 was originally designated in 1935; it ran from CA 1 at Morro Bay to US 101 at Paso Robles, then Paso Robles to Famoso, then with US 99 to Bakersfield, then alone again to Barstow, then cosigned with US 91 to Las Vegas, NV. From there it left town into Arizona, later co-signed with US 93, to terminate in Kingman at US 66 (now Interstate 40). After US 93 the California portions were the only ones no longer part of a useless multiplex, and after it was also decommissioned in 1964 the rest of the route was also shut down in stages by Arizona and Nevada to be completely torn down by 1971. In California, it was replaced by CA 41, CA 46, CA 99 and CA 58, and then I-15 leaving the state (which replaced US 91).

The Division of Highways had always planned to bypass Bakersfield with both US 466 and US 99, though only the US 99 portion was ultimately realized before those highways faded. This gets really complicated quickly, so follow me closely. LRN 141 originally defined itself as a partial bypass of Bakersfield, west from this point on Union along Brundage Ln to Oak St (both of these streets, as it happens, running parallel to the modern CA 58 and CA 99 freeways respectively) and north up Oak St to the Golden State Highway alignment on LRN 4 curving northwest towards Famoso (1933 and 1935). In 1963, after the US 99 freeway was complete through Bakersfield, LRN 141 was redefined to run east along Brundage Ln from the new LRN 4/US 99 freeway to this point, then north on Union Ave and Golden State Ave to LRN 58 along the Edison Highway, which is old US 466 -- remember the CA 58 freeway wouldn't be built for over a decade, so this was the best alternative at the time for US 466. However, this by no means implies that US 466 actually ever ran that way; US 466 only ever used the Edison Hwy into Bakersfield, then US 99 out of it, because this final 1963 incarnation of LRN 141 lived only briefly as US 99, US 466 and the entire LRN system were dismantled with the 1964 Great Renumbering. Nevertheless, LRN 141 had a successor, and that successor is ...

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Union Avenue/Golden State Highway (CA 204/BR 99)

... the highway that we are now on as we cross CA 58, namely, CA 204. Between 1964 and 1976, CA 204 ran on Brundage as the "bypass" until the CA 58 freeway was built to this point, and afterwards was truncated here, ...

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... proven by the END sign if we look southbound.

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California Avenue. There used to be the big yellow BAKERSFIELD sign here, but that was moved to Buck Owens Blvd (old Pierce Rd), which is a bummer.

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Looking south at the Truxton Avenue overpass, separated out in 1959.

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Business signage of a sort (recall that Chester Avenue is still running west of us with the very oldest US 99 alignment).

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Approaching the CA 178 junction and our first (more likely) putative terminus, which no longer exists in its original form since this interchange was reconstructed with the CA 178 freeway in 1967. Nevertheless, we can get the general idea. US 99 follows CA 204 to the left down Golden State Ave, while US 466 came in from the right on the Edison Hwy via Sumner Street. This was originally a much less complicated wye intersection, but to follow the junction as closely as possible to its old course we would stay on Union due north and immediately exit onto Sumner.

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Golden State Avenue (CA 204/BR 99)

Despite this, Sumner intersects us just as we pull away from Union, but this is not really the location of the original junction, although it's close.

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Passing under the CA 178 freeway (looking southeast) with an interesting use of "FREEWAY" as a cardinal direction. Bakersfield denizens have long commented on how CA 178 and CA 58 are continuous with each other, and the reason for that is CA 58 was CA 178 west of Bakersfield until 1964, when CA 178 was truncated and CA 58 took over the entire freed routing of LRN 58, which included portions of old CA 178, US 466 and US 66 (but US 66 was already soaked up by I-40, so CA 58 ends where the California US 466 did, in Barstow).

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The second, less likely terminus, at the Oildale "exit." This was the original US 99 gantry, as evidenced by the straight ribs (current gantries use diagonal struts) and the "TO" of clearly different age.

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The reason I propose this as another possible end is the Francisco Garces Traffic Circle below us, named for the friar who was the first European to discover the region. This is where Chester Avenue (old US 99) meets us, and is a designated landmark even on the map, so this implies some measure of significance. However, I also agree it would be more logical for the useless multiplex to end at a highway junction rather than out in "space."

Since we're already here, let's go ahead and do one more bonus!

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Bonus Epilogue: Golden State Avenue to CA 99 Freeway (Clinching CA 204)

Crossing over the Garces, CA 204 becomes a freeway.

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Crossing the Kern River for the last time as we move into north Bakersfield.

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Not the wild river it used to be, although the view isn't very good from here (shooting off the bridge itself is a little tricky).

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The single exit for Airport Drive just before meeting the CA 99 freeway.

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Here's how the junction looks from CA 99 SB. First, the advance signage for CA 204, ...

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... then advance signage for BR 99 (and signage for Lake Isabella, which is a little odd except that this route to CA 178 is faster than taking CA 178 through surface streets to the freeway), ...

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... and finally separation. The freeway portion of CA 204 was reconstructed in 1994, which explains the recent-vintage signs.

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First shield SB.

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Back on the north side, looking at the SB side we just were on, as CA 204 ends.

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The end of CA 204, BR 99 and LRN 141, as we join CA 99 NB on our way to the other exciting vacation destinations in Kern county, such as Delano and McFarland, where I had the worst McDonald's burger in the world.

Get out of the car (and avoid getting the worst McDonald's burger in the world in McFarland, CA)

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