Historic Bell Tower to Become Education Training Center

Thursday December 21, 2023

The Kern County Superintendent of Schools (KCSOS) closed escrow this week on the iconic Bell Tower, a former church complex built in 1932 in the heart of downtown Bakersfield. The stunning building, flush with Spanish architecture and soaring arched windows and doorways, was the home of First Baptist Church until 1977. It has since housed private clubs, office spaces, several restaurants and has been used as a backdrop for numerous weddings and other special events. 

The Bell Tower building in downtown Bakersfield is positioned adjacent to KCSOS’s existing administrative buildings. City Centre, KCSOS’s headquarters, sits a block to the northwest.

KCSOS will develop the complex into a new professional learning center. Planning for interior improvements will begin soon and are expected to be completed over the next year or so. 

“This is one of the most beautiful buildings in the central valley and we are thrilled to have it,” said Dr. John Mendiburu, Kern County Superintendent of Schools. “The intent is to renovate the interior to provide the space needed for trainings and gatherings to occur.” 

However, Mendiburu quickly noted that the building’s historical significance will be kept intact. 

“We will not change any elements that connect and tie to the history of the building,” he said. 

KCSOS provides hundreds of trainings, workshops, and meetings every year tailored for Kern County educators and other community partners. These staff development efforts have grown exponentially over the years, and KCSOS has outgrown its large gathering spaces and smaller meeting rooms in existing buildings in the downtown area. The previous owners of the Bell Tower approached KCSOS about the purchase knowing the organization was looking for additional space downtown.

“The Bell Tower is positioned perfectly to allow for easy access to our neighboring facilities downtown,” Mendiburu said. “It will allow us to better accommodate professional development and allow flexibility for Kern school districts and other community partners looking for meeting space for their own staff development and meetings.” 

Currently, many of Kern County’s 46 school districts have limited space and they are spread out throughout the county. KCSOS’s new facility will provide a central location for future offerings.  

History & Architecture

In a 2016 Bakersfield Californian article, it was reported that the Bell Tower was by created by architect Charles Howatt Biggar, who designed the innovative steel-reinforced concrete building with 12-inch thick walls for a final budget of more than $100,000 during the Depression era, when laborers earned 50 cents per day.

The building, however, was built to last and survive a big earthquake and its aftershocks. It survived the earthquake of 1952 “without so much as a hairline crack,” according to reports from the Bell Tower Association in a letter to the National Register of Historic Places on Oct. 18, 1978.

The Spanish arches in its western portion are associated with the Mission Revival style of architecture, its Romanesque architecture is attributed to the sanctuary, and the 70-foot bell tower resembles the tower of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy, built in the 13th century. 

First Baptist Church construction in 1932.

Photo courtesy of the Kern County Museum.

By Robert Meszaros

By Robert Meszaros

Rob Meszaros is Director of Communications for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, where he has served since 2012. In his role, Meszaros oversees media relations, internal and external communication strategies, publications, Marcom, branding, and multi-media content creation. Before joining KCSOS, Meszaros was the PIO for CSU Bakersfield and earlier worked for seven years at The Bakersfield Californian.