The deceased Bakersfield native, Merle Haggard,
will always be one of country music's biggest stars
Walking in the Boot Steps Of
Bakersfield, Merle Haggard
And the Padre Hotel
Story and photographs by Greg Aragon
fter the recent passing of country music great Merle Haggard, I decided
to take a trip to his hometown of Bakersfield / Oildale, CA to see where
it all started for him and learn more the rich history of the region.
It was also a chance to stay at the legendary Padre Hotel, which like
Merle, has become an iconic figure in the area.
The getaway began when a friend and I checked into a
luxurious 4th floor suite at the Padre. Featuring two full size beds
with Isoform mattresses, a shower/tub combo, a relaxing chair and ottoman,
a large flat screen television with Direct TV, an office work station,
and free hi-speed Internet, the 400-sq-ft room had all we needed for
a wonderful two-night stay. It also boasted a great window-view overlooking
the city below.
The Padre's decor boasts colorful reminders of Bakersfield's
Once acquainting ourselves with the room, we explored
the rest of the historic hotel. Originally opened in 1928, the Padre
began as tourist spot for travelers passing through Central
California and as a mini-getaway for hard-working men and women
toiling in nearby farms and oil fields. To help keep the classic memories
alive, the hotel features a large mural of a cowgirl in the grand lobby,
and ornate wall paper with swirly patterns of oil wells, farm tools,
cowboy hats and boots, saloon girls, and other period symbols.
Like Merle Haggard, the Padre is a Bakersfield icon
Today, after a massive, recent renovation, the property
is the place to be in Bakersfield and has become a sophisticated boutique
hotel with restaurants, nightlife, wedding venues and conference facilities.
The 8-story structure currently stands as Bakersfields only 4-Diamond
After touring the property and enjoying a tasty chorizo
burger and a pork belly Cubano sandwich at the hotel's Brimstone bar
and grill, we drove to the Kern County Museum, where thousands of local
historical and cultural artifacts and 56 historic buildings are displayed
on 16 beautifully landscaped acres.
The biggest current highlight of the museum is the Merle
Haggard BoxCar the old rail boxcar the Haggard family purchased in
1935 for $500. Last summer, the boxcar was relocated from nearby Oildale
to the museum. On hand at the relocation ceremony was Merle and his
94-yr-old sister Lillian Haggard Rea.
Merle Haggard's childhood home is a museum highlight
Merle, who wrote some of the greatest country songs
of all time, such as "Mama Tried" and Okie From Muskogee,
lived in the boxcar with his sister, mother Flossie and father James,
who added a couple rooms to the structure. Now rundown, with rotted
wood and peeled paint, the boxcar is on display but the inside is closed
to the public. It is currently getting a full facelift and will soon
be open for walk-in tours.
Besides Merle's Boxcar, the museum is packed with fascinating
exhibits, such as Gold: The Oil Experience. This features giant iron
pieces of actual mining equipment and buildings used in local oilfields,
along with interactive displays demonstrating how oil is formed and
recovered and then transformation into many products we use today. This
is interesting considering Kern County provides 64% of Californias
oil production, and oil production has been a crucial component of the
local economy since 1895.
The Kern County Museum boasts thousands of local
historical and cultural artifacts
The museum also houses the Bakersfield Sound exhibit,
dedicated to the music created by the likes of Haggard, Buck Owens,
Bonnie Owens, Fuzzy Owen and others; along with 56 restored structures
like a general store where visitors could get a 25-cent bath, a tiny
courthouse sitting above a jail, an archaic dentist office, a chuck
wagon and a hotel, where meals were 50 cents.
And speaking of meals, after the museum, we drove back
to the Padre Hotel for a fabulous dinner at the property's signature
Belvedere Room Restaurant. Elegant and inviting, the Belvedere is a
modern steakhouse based on the classics and firmly rooted in the California
cooking philosophy of using fresh, seasonal and local ingredients.
The Belvedere Room Restaurant is a classic California
Our meal began with jumbo tiger prawns with Sriracha
lime cocktail sauce; and Heritage pork belly with apple-golden raisin
chutney appetizers, and a couple glasses of cabernet. We followed this
an orange-mint sorbet intermezzo, then for a main course we split wild
mushroom risotto and potato puree, while I devoured a succulent 8 oz
Brandt farm, corn-fed beef tenderloin, and my friend sampled the lump
crab cake with remoulade frisee. For dessert we split a decadent mudslide
Bakersfield is full of history and architectural
For more information on staying at the Padre Hotel and
dining at Belvedere Room, visit the Padre
here for more information on the Kern County Museum.
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