USFS building faces new chapter

By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun

When the Forest Service staff moves into the new Kern River Ranger Station later this month, they will be leaving the iconic two-story log building that has been home to the district employees for more than 35 years.

It was May of 1982 when employees moved into their new digs on Whitney Road in Kernville. The sprawling 8,000 square-foot log structure was a welcomed change, since the Forest Service staff was moving out of a much smaller 2,500 square-foot office on Kernville Road, in the building that currently houses Liberty Ambulance.

The large two-story log cabin wasn’t just the first commercial building to be constructed entirely out of logs; it was the only building that was developed in what was originally intended to be a much larger log complex.

Talk of a grand plan

“The whole project was being billed as the largest log complex in the Western United States,” said Bob Addison, who served as District Ranger of what was then referred to as the Cannell Meadow Ranger District.

In a telephone interview, Addison recalled that Community First Bank intended to build a bank branch on the vacant lot located directly across from the Forest Service building. Plans also included condominiums along with office and retail space. Addison pointed out that the Forest Service building was constructed on private land as a way to enhance private enterprise.
Area residents were excited about the log complex; to the point that deposits were being taken on the condos.

“The logs were delivered to the lot across the street where the Pierson Cable TV office was located, and they were quite the sight,” Addison said.

Lanny Borthick served as the general contractor of the Forest Service building that was already under construction, and he remembers how it all went together.

“In preparation of the log complex going in on the vacant lot, we drilled a good water well and put in curb and gutter. We even tore down the old Pierson building,” Borthick said.
But when two of the three principal project partners were killed in an airplane crash, the plans came to a sudden and abrupt halt.

“I remember I was in the Forest Service building in the electrical room waiting for an inspection, when this well-dressed gentleman came in and said to me, ‘I don’t want any real estate in Kernville,’ and that ended the rest of the project,” Borthick said, adding that the logs were sold and moved to property in Onyx.

Rather than a complex of commercial and residential development, it was reduced to a single building – the home of the Forest Service’s Ranger Station.

The Forest Service’s Log Cabin

The imposing log ranger station was the first log building Borthick constructed, and there was a specific way the building had to be assembled.

Under the guidance from the owner of the log company, the building’s footing foundation was a critical aspect and was comprised of strong steel and a lot of concrete that was poured for the foundation slab.

Then came the logs – rather the layering of logs – that were placed one at a time around the perimeter of the building. Borthick explained that a single layer of logs was put in place around the entire perimeter of the building, followed by the next layer, again around the building’s perimeter before moving on to the next layer of logs.

“Every log had a certain weight, and when we laid it on top of the other log, we would bolt each one down with a reinforced steel spike that we would pound into the log,” Borthick said. “Then we would bend the rebar over the log to secure it in place.”

Borthick said as the logs were being added, the weight of the logs caused a curvature in the building that he said he can see, but probably is not noticed by many people. Because of the weight of the logs, the walls of the building compressed to a point that they sheared off a water pipe inside the building. Fortunately, Borthick said the building was not occupied at the time. Still, it revealed a problem that had to be fixed.

“We went back and fixed the footings with additional reinforced steel, and the building stopped settling once we finished reinforcing the footing,” he said.

Another challenge came as crews were placing the last of the roof tresses, which was a gable-end piece.

“We were using a crane to lift it and set it in place, and just as we got it up to the top, a big gust of wind came up and folded it over like a taco,” Borthick said. “We lowered it to the ground, straightened it out and reinforced it from the inside. We had it back up and in place in about an hour.”

Borthick said building the log cabin “was a challenge, but it was fun to do, and we enjoyed every minute.”

Employees of the Forest Service were the first tenants to move in and have been the only tenants in the 35 years since it was constructed; although, the California Highway Patrol maintained an office on the second story for a number of years.

“Everybody was fascinated by the building,” Addison said. “The log cabin atmosphere was appealing and the staff loved it. It was a joy to work in, and the public was also in love with that building. We would open it up during Whiskey Flat Days, and everyone loved it. It just seemed to fit with Kernville. We were the envy of the other districts on the Forest,” Addison said. “Everyone was impressed with that building. It was a great building for the Forest Service.”

The Sign

With the headquarters complete, now all that was needed was a sign identifying the building. And not just any sign would do for such a grand log structure.

The sign that is located over the entrance is a custom sign carved by Rudy Andrian, who at that time was a counselor at Camp Owen juvenile detention camp. The sign was carved from a section of a Giant Sequoia Tree estimated to be about 2,000 years old that had been purchased from a mill in the Springville area. Addison said the tree had a ring count of 749 rings. The sign weighed about 400 pounds and was put in place with the help of a forklift from the Kernville Lumber Co.

Since the completion of the building, a few modifications have been made, primarily to meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements. An elevator was installed – another first for the Kern Valley, said Borthick, and bathrooms and drinking fountains were remodeled for ADA compliance.

Employee Memories

Forest Service employee Steve Anderson was on staff when they moved into the log building. The Resource Officer and Rangeland Management Specialist remembers it as a steady move out of the ambulance building. “It wasn’t a moving day, we had weeks to move, so it was a gradual move,” Anderson said.

“Bob (Addison) was very proud of the building as he had a hand in getting it,” Anderson said. “The building was a showpiece, and it is an impressive building. Bob made a good choice.”

Anderson said that he looked forward to moving into the log building back in 1982, but, as he gets ready to pack up his office boxes and move once again, he said that he is also looking forward to their new ranger station that will be completed later this month.

Margie Clack remembers her interview for the position of Public Information Officer. It was on a hot Sunday afternoon in August of 1986.

“As we drove down the street, the first thing that struck us was this two-story log building,” Clack said. “I was in awe of it.” Clack got the job and moved into her office which was located on the second floor. She retired in 2008 and has several funny memories of the building.

“The security alarms went off a few times when employees forgot the security code,” Clack said. “And we had a homeless man break into the building by breaking the front door. He surprised the first people coming to work that morning,” Clack said.

Then there was the time a water pipe broke, right after new carpeting had been installed. The broken pipe flooded the first floor. “I remember we had to move everything outside into the street while they fixed the pipe and redid the carpet. It was in January because it was really cold. I think it had snowed the night before,” Clack said.

Log Cabins were nothing new

While a log building was a new concept for Kernville, they certainly weren’t new to the Forest Service. In fact, the Forest Service worked out of several log cabins on the local forest dating back to 1906. Log cabins were used as summer ranger stations and could be found in several locations on the Forest, including Bonita Meadow, Beach Meadow, Cannell Meadow, Curliss and Casa Vieja.

According to Forest Service documents, the original Cannell Meadow District office was located on the Kern Plateau at the Cannell Cabin and served as a guard station for the early-day rangers. In 1952, the Cannell Meadow ranger station was relocated to the north of the Isabella Reservoir Project. The District’s management needs on the Upper Kern River and Kern Plateau continued to expand, as did the office staff. In 1973, the Kernville Ranger Station moved to the 2,500 sq. ft. facility that now houses Liberty Ambulance.

When the last box has been packed up and moved out of the log cabin ranger station by the end of this month, many residents wonder what will become of it. Despite rumors and speculation, at this time, the building’s owner Jerry Gull is keeping quiet about what or who will occupy the big two-story log cabin on Whitney Road in Kernville.