New Downtown Mural Celebrates Operation School Bell
One of the newest murals in downtown Bakersfield celebrates a pioneering effort to help school children.
Painted on the south side of the Assistance League of Bakersfield building, the mural was officially dedicated August 11, 2022. It was created by Deidre Hathor and Brandon Thompson, with assistance from apprentice Micah Herndon. The colorful 21 foot by 50 foot mural celebrates Operation School Bell.
The program, which began in Bakersfield in 1958, is now the signature philanthropic program for all Assistance League chapters nationwide. It provides school children with a hygiene kit and clothing items such as shirts, pants, underwear, socks and a jacket. To date, more than 155,000 local students have been served by the Bakersfield chapter’s Operation School Bell.
In addition to hosting the new mural, the building is home to the Bakersfield Assistance League’s Bargain Box thrift store at 1924 “Q” Street in downtown’s Mill Creek neighborhood. Bargain Box is the organization’s largest fundraising effort, is operated solely by League volunteers, and has been at its present location since the mid-2000's. Before that, Bargain Box was located where the Maya Cinemas development is today.
But before Maya Cinemas could be built, the existing businesses and residents had to be relocated. While the “Q” Street building seems like a good fit for the League now, it was not a sure bet at the beginning. The building had been the long-time site of the State of California’s Employment Development Department. However, the building had sat empty for many years since then and was saddled with significant environmental issues that prohibited its re-use.
Coincidentally, in 2003 the Bakersfield Redevelopment Agency received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up contaminated properties in the city’s redevelopment areas. That grant, the largest awarded in EPA’s Region IX that year, funded an Agency program called BRACE – Bakersfield Redevelopment Areas Cleanup Effort. Those BRACE funds were used for the environmental clean-up of the “Q” Street building that allowed the Assistance League to move in.
At that time, Mill Creek Linear Park was still being built, the streetscape improvements to “Q” Street had not been made, and there was little new development nearby.
Now, almost 20 years later, Mill Creek has been completed, the neighborhood is humming with new businesses, improved landscaping and lighting have been installed along “Q” Street, new housing has been built, and construction is underway for new apartments nearby.
And it now is home to downtown's latest mural that celebrates a nationally-recognized program that began 64 years ago in Bakersfield.
Learn more about the Assistance League of Bakersfield here.