A new look
The Spirit of Tehachapi
June 8, 2019
While the City of Tehachapi was watching the country attempting to pull itself from the Great Depression, which had begun with the 1930s, there was a new look appearing in the downtown section. Green Street was paved for the first time in 1936 and two former Tehachapi mayors, Louis Kanstein and Frank Baumgart, built a movie theater which they named after themselves! Bee for Baumgart and Kay for Kanstein.
Local contractor Vince Ninteman, was the construction superintendent. The theater closed in the 70s with television keeping people home. It also has endured a fire, but today the BeeKay Theatre has been resurrected to its original art deco style by the City and stands proudly showing Tehachapi Community Theatre productions and is the site of local civic meetings. It's a keeper.
Meanwhile, during the 1930s period local farming did a dramatic turnaround. Beautiful, mature orchards were rudely pulled up and potatoes were crowned king of Kern County agriculture with fields planted in Cummings, Brite and Tehachapi Valleys plus some in Sand Canyon. Bisbee's Bartlett Pear Orchard was to remain. The Russet potato was the main crop grown and at harvest time the valley would be covered in a blanket of dust from digging and hauling the crops. Sometimes a "whopper" would be dug and would appear in the window of Joe Sola's Barber Shop on Green Street for passers-by to see.
Jacobsen, Kirschman, Mettler, Martini and Sasia are names synonymous with the bumper crops taken from the valleys. I recall the owners of the various fields always drove the latest in automobiles; beautiful cars but covered with field dirt. Potato sheds were built along Main Street (Tehachapi Boulevard) so that the crops brought in could be washed, graded and shipped into waiting freight cars.
Local housewives and school students earned a goodly amount of money working on the assembly lines during harvest time.
Once I asked J.C. "Jake" Jacobsen, long time resident and grower, just when he decided it was time to plant the crop in the spring. I told him, my grandmother always planted her potatoes on Good Friday. He said, "Yeh, that's a good time." I am sure he had a much more scientific method.
Jake did give me these statistics though. A 50 day period of potato harvesting from here entailed the loading of one hundred railroad cars PER DAY. There were more than 5,000-acres under cultivation in the local valleys. The harvest season began in early August.
It was also during this time that the "dust bowl" victims from the mid-west states came to California to seek employment. They had no homes nor could have afforded them, so tent cities were provided for them to live in. The area on Mill Street, where the Church of Christ and Lutheran Church now stand, was a sea of tents. H Street, across the tracks, held another tent community. The late Kelcy Owens, beloved and esteemed citizen, often stated he was a "dust bowler" himself.
In later years, the potato crops gave way to the planting of apple orchards as well as turf and seed crops. King Potato was now history. The sheds along the railroad tracks became known as apple sheds and Tehachapi became famous for their wonderful apples. I still slip once in a while and refer to the buildings as potato sheds only to be corrected by newcomers that they are Apple Sheds. They are well meaning folk who moved here late enough not to have any knowledge of the great potato harvests that once came from the Tehachapi area.
One of the surviving sheds house a restaurant, a bakery and shop on Tehachapi Blvd. and Curry Street; Jacobsen's Shed became a fine eating establishment, plus a gift shop that leaned into local history and was called The Apple Shed. It is now under new management and open for catered parties only. Its new name is The Shed. The Rotary Club meets there each Thursday. One shed burned in 1976, they said it was arson. The remaining is a tin building; silent and empty. Time marches on, I guess.