The Loop Newspaper - Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

By Susan Wiggins

Tehachapi's first 50

A Page of History


Most of us remember the 100th birthday of the city of Tehachapi held in 2009 in front of the steps of the present city hall complete with a jumbo-tron.

But some of you have been here long enough to remember Tehachapi’s 50th anniversary, which my mother Marion Deaver wrote about in 1959.

In 1909 the downtown was lit by a dozen gasoline street lights which shone down dimly each night on the dirt streets of the city. If a fire broke out, volunteer firemen rushed to the scene with a hand-drawn truck to the scene.

Vehicles could not be driven more than one mile in six minutes or ten miles an hour, which was due to an ordinance passed on Sept. 4, 1912. If one of the town’s wooden sidewalks was “so decayed as to be dangerous to life or limb” that too was deemed illegal.

I can only assume that my mother sat for hours and reviewed old copies of the city’s municipal codes to gather these bits of research.

The city in 1909 had a population of 520 persons. In 1959 it was listed as over 3,000. That population has grown to over 35,000 in the entire Tehachapi valley.

Fire services had grown in 1959 to a six man total crew at the Kern County Fire Department, assisted still by a bevy of city volunteers who responded to a horn blowing out a sequence of coded blasts to tell the volunteers where to respond.

County equipment, city pumpers, a paid city chief, two assistant chiefs, and the volunteers provided a “efficient fire protection system.” In addition the city covered the downtown area with an eight inch full fire hydrant system and the residential area with a six inch system.

The local water system had grown from windmill pump days to the then present construction of a 1,030,000-gallon storage reservoir and new water lines. These improvements and an enlarged sewer system were made possible by a $143,000 bond election.

On April 12, 1915, a bond issue of $8,000 was approved for an electric light system. Three months later the city approved appointing a city electrician.

At a special election held Feb. 23, 1937, a sewer system and disposal plant was made possible by voter approval of a $31,000 bond issue. Five acres were purchased to create a city dump in 1909 at $75 per acre at the site of an old brickyard.

From the 1909 days of City Marshall C.V. Bernard, to the 1959 Chief of Police William Mantoth, the city grew its police services to two patrol cars, four officers, and a jail that grew from a wooden shack to a jail situated in city hall.

The city now has a modern police department located on C Street, complete with holding cells, and a modern EOC center.

Other improvements in the city were boulevard signs, (1930); gross weight limits on streets, (1938); and two-hour parking limits when necessary, (1957).

In the area of city government, a city administrator served beginning in 1957. In that same year, a five member planning commission was created. The city now has a planning commission, city council, and a City Manager, plus staff to govern the city.

From a one-room school house built in the 1880s within the city, the Tehachapi school district had grown to add an elementary school, high school, and a newly constructed junior high school by 1959.

The 1959 celebration was held in City Park, which is now known as Philip Marx Central Park. City records showed that the city park site was being leveled and trees added in 1912, and some of those trees still stand today. In 1959 the park was a center for all types of attractions, as it is today, including the annual Mountain Festival, which draws thousands of residents and visitors.

The city suffered fires, a devastating earthquake in 1952, but has continued to “rise from the ashes” and continues to grow until today. The city has become a major tourist destination and people all over the U.S. and some other countries know where Tehachapi is and what it offers.

The added infusion of tourists helps support and local businesses and brings added sales tax revenues into the city to help it grow even more.


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