Back in the early 1900s, Bakersfield was known for being a wild party town. “At that time I arrived in Bakersfield, which was the twenty-seventh day of December 1909, it was a wide-open, rip-roaring, frontier town, with 65 saloons, a population of about 8,500, and a red light district that was a wonder. The population was…free and easy in their morals, liberal in their attitudes, and all-around good sports,” reads Inside Historic Kern.
And boy, was the saloon district a wild place to be, with the illustrious Club Saloon being central to much of this excitement. Located in the Bakersfield tenderloin, it was known for the nefarious figures it attracted and its somewhat outrageous history. Aurelio Herrera had made a career as a successful boxer travelling across the United States for fights and at age 32, decided to go into the family business, managing saloons. Him and his partner, William M. “Baldy” Wilson purchased the Cosmopolitan Hotel saloon and set up a boxing ring, in which Herrera himself occasionally headlined. They owned the establishment until 1907 when it burned down, killing their large pet eagle and setting their captive wildcat loose in downtown Bakersfield. They decided to relocate and opened the doors of Herrera & Wilson’s Club Saloon on 19th street later that year.
Seen in this photograph are Herrera and Wilson with their game from a hunting trip in the mountains around Bakersfield. Perhaps describing the same event, The Bakersfield Californian described them and two boxers returning “from a two days’ hunting trip to Granite Station, where excellent hunting was enjoyed as guests of Proprietor Williams of the station. The four returned with all the birds the law allows. Their arrival must have been anticipated for when the nimrods drew up at the Club Saloon, a good sized gathering was “sticking around” and it took some lightning manipulation of figures for Herrera to determine how to divide the spoils so all the friends and the star hunter himself would have quail on toast for Sunday’s Breakfast.” Sounds like quite the feast!
Even with the camaraderie of shared hunting trips and years of working together, their partnership was not without its challenges. “Aurelio Herrera, the Mexican pugilist, of Bakersfield, was accidentally shot in the leg by his partner, Baldy Wilson, last Friday,” reads the Pittsburgh Press in 1908. Thankfully, “Herrera was 20 yards distant and the shot glanced. He was painfully but not severely injured.”
Eventually, the City council decided to clean up downtown, finally revoking the Club’s liquor license in 1909 after Wilson made threats against an Officer… his defense being that he was too drunk to remember if he actually did it. The Echo wrote at that time, “Thus endeth the first real lesson to keepers of brothels and dives in the town of Bakersfield.” The Bakersfield Californian went on to say that the board’s top concern was “to solve the problem of the disposition of the many worthless characters who make their headquarters in the tenderloin district and in saloons in the lower end of town.” Their partnership was henceforth dissolved, and that was the end of Club Saloon.