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The haunting tale of Bakersfield’s Padre Hotel

The seventh floor, scene of a fire that killed a family with small children, is a hotbed of paranormal activity according to hotel staff.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) — "This looks like the cover of, like, a horror movie poster," Jack Osbourne, host of the Travel Channel's "Portals to Hell" series, says as his black SUV pulls up in front of the Padre Hotel in downtown Bakersfield. He gets out of the car and stares up at the imposing cream and brown façade, bathed in pale winter sunlight. "First impressions: it actually does remind me of 'The Shining.' It's got that same kind of vibe."

Osbourne and fellow paranormal investigator Heather Taddy visited the Bakersfield landmark in December 2020. Thanks in large part to the Covid-19 pandemic, which slowed down business considerably, they and their small crew were able to stay in the hotel alone for two days, marking the first time the hotel has been investigated for television.

Before locking themselves down for the investigation, Osbourne and Taddy chatted with general manager Jennifer Johnson and a few other staff members about their experiences working at the Padre.

The ghost of a little girl is especially active in the hotel lobby, Johnson said in the episode, and "likes to tug on shirts and aprons." She also apparently left a handprint on a column in the hotel's Farmacy Café, which seems to come back no matter how many times employees clean it off.

This small handprint is on a pillar in the Padre's Farmacy Cafe.

Sinks also turn off and on by themselves in the public restroom downstairs, Johnson said. She also noticed that the locks on the bathroom doors often jiggle with no one on the other side.

"Oh, that's just the ghost," her co-workers told her when she mentioned it.

A cook named Andreas said he routinely sees a tall man in a white coat walking down the hallways and thought he was the chef until one day the chef was cooking upstairs and Andreas saw the man downstairs. Johnson said that housekeeping staff often feel like they're being watched. When they turn to look, they catch a quick glimpse of a tall man in a long coat who quickly vanishes.

The seventh floor is said to be a particular hotbed of paranormal activity, as are the upper floors in general.

"It’s a beautiful hotel. It’s been modernized, but there is a sense of a home abandoned. There is a vibe that is palpable, that is bad,” Osbourne said in an article for Bakersfield.com discussing the Padre episode, which aired as the show's season 2 finale in 2021.

As a Bakersfield native, I of course had to watch the episode for myself. It was a blast seeing a nationally televised show feature a downtown landmark that has been a fixture of this city since long before I was born.

The Padre's story begins during the Central Valley's Roaring Twenties, when prosperity from an oil boom increased the demand for an upscale hotel. Designed by Los Angeles architect John M. Cooper, who also designed the Roxie Theatre in downtown LA and San Bernardino's City Hall, the Spanish Revival style hotel was constructed on the former estate of city father and Judge Benjamin Brundage for around $600,000 — roughly $10 million in today — as reported by Julie Carr of HauntedHouses.com.

Originally styled the Hotel Padre in honor of Franciscan monk Padre Francisco Garces, one of the first European missionaries to visit the area in the 18th century, the Grand Old Dame's grand opening was held on April 12, 1928. Boasting 196 guestrooms as well as a banquet hall and a coffee shop, the eight-story hotel was the tallest building in town. It soon became the centerpiece of the downtown business district and was hailed as the "finest hotel west of the Rockies,” according to a 2015 article for Bakersfield Life.

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After what the historical marker outside the lobby entrance describes as its "auspicious and flamboyant opening," good fortune followed the Padre for decades until tragedy struck in the 1950s. A fire on the seventh floor claimed the lives of a family with children, and in 1952 a devastating earthquake killed several people trapped in the hotel basement.

The Padre entered one of the most colorful eras of its history when former County Supervisor Milton "Spartacus" Miller and his business associates bought it in 1954. Over the next 45 years, he sparred with the Bakersfield City Council over code enforcement issues. Miller hung protest banners on the hotel, pointed a fake missile mounted on the roof at City Hall and installed a 30-foot-tall sign on the top of the hotel that said "Alamo Tombstone."

Milton "Spartacus" Miller stands outside the Padre Hotel, taken in 1977.

In 1966, Miller lost his war with City Council and the Padre was condemned from the third story up. Ever the contrarian, old Spartacus still let friends and acquaintances go beyond the second floor, where squatters also reportedly stayed.

Following his death in 1999, the now derelict hotel was put up for sale. Pacifica Enterprises bought it in 2002, intending to convert the property into condos. From the start the project was plagued with delays and legal issues involving the presence and botched removal of asbestos, and the hotel went back on the market in 2007.

In 2008, San Diego hotelier and restaurant developer Brett Miller and architect Graham Downes teamed up to buy the Padre for nearly $4 million. After an $18 million renovation and a partnership with the city of Bakersfield to preserve this historical landmark, the Padre reopened in 2010.

Rumors of the hotel's resident ghosts have haunted the place ever since.

During renovations, construction workers claimed their tools routinely disappeared without explanation. Some blamed the cranky ghost of Spartacus Miller, who may not have been pleased with the changes to his beloved hotel, as reported by The Bakersfield Californian.

Guests have also reported hearing spectral children giggling on the upper floors. In 2017, Bakersfield-based ghost hunting group AMPED and local news reporter Adam Bowles brought along special "trigger" toys on their trip to the Padre to entice the young spirits out to play. They caught the toys lighting up on camera with no one nearby, as well as sensor screen footage of a small spirit playing in the room.

Theresa Caputo, star of "The Long Island Medium," visited the Padre in 2012 and said the children's spirits told her they like staying at the hotel, where they can sing and dance and play in the hallways, according to an October 2012 article on Today.com.

A glimpse of the seventh floor of the Padre Hotel by the staircase.

Katt Guinn, founder of the Porterville Ghost Society, visited the hotel in 2009 at the request of the owners, who wanted to know whether people were just making things up after several members of their night crew walked off the job, claiming they were too "creeped out" to stay, according to Bakersfield.com.

“We kept smelling weird things. There was a smell of a fire,” Guinn said. She also reported seeing the figure of a woman walking around the upper floors.

Whether the hotel really does have visitors from beyond the grave or just guests and staff with overactive imaginations, they're leaning into the haunted hype with the upcoming Fright Night Halloween costume party, inviting guests to come celebrate their "favorite scary holiday" at "Bakersfield's historically haunted hotel."

Courthouse News reached out to follow up with the hotel after the "Portals from Hell" crew visited to see if they noticed any change in activity, but no one responded by press time. Maybe the ghost has got their tongue.

A historical plaque outside the entrance to the Padre Hotel lobby.

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