n Linda Bruckheimer's debut novel, "Dreaming
Southern," Becky Jean Wooten -- who spent her early adulthood in Los
Angeles forgetting her Kentucky upbringing -- undergoes a conversion.
She investigates her ancestors and urges her family to see the
American countryside before it disappears. "The country is being
overrun by minimalls and skyscrapers!" she warns.
Like Becky Jean, Bruckheimer moved as a teenager from Kentucky to
Los Angeles, where she has been a writer, producer and West Coast
editor for Mirabella, and where she married the mega-successful movie
producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
And, like Becky Jean, after years in the fast lane, Linda
Bruckheimer -- annoyed at L.A.'s obsession with the new, and concerned
that "everybody in this country is development-crazy," succumbed to
what she calls "the age-old longing to go back to your roots."
Six and a half years ago, Bruckheimer bought a farm with an
imposing 1820 Greek-revival house in Bloomfield, Ky. (pop. 1,100),
about 20 miles southeast of Louisville, Bruckheimer's hometown. She
restored and renovated the house, filling it with American antiques,
and added two guest cabins to the property, one of which belonged to
Abraham Lincoln's great-uncle Richard Berry Jr. Now, Bruckheimer
spends as much time as she can there, and finds that "when I'm there,
I don't want to go back to L.A., and when I'm in L.A., I find myself
thinking about Kentucky."
Then, about three years ago, Bruckheimer bought and restored the
derelict 1899 Wells Building (on the National Register of Historic
Places) in Bloomfield's downtown -- and then another old building, and
another, until she owned five of them. She wants to revitalize this
tiny downtown -- some of whose merchants fell victim to suburban malls
and big discount stores -- with businesses that appeal to both
tourists and locals.
One building, the Olde Bloomfield Meeting Hall, is now a
family-style recreation center, where children and their parents can
bowl, roller-skate and play pool and pinball. Across the street, in
what was a wreck of an old building, Bruckheimer opened Nettie Jarvis
Antiques. When she bought an old school (abandoned for a newer model),
she enlisted the help of architecture students at the University of
Kentucky, who are studying new uses for it.
Bruckheimer hopes to put a barbecue restaurant in the Wells
Building and an ice-cream parlor in the unrenovated half of the Nettie
Jarvis building. And she recently bought the building next door, which
will be a perfume shop operated by her daughter, Alexandra Balahoutis,
who, following in her mother's footsteps, is a contributing writer for
Bruckheimer isn't the first celebrity to buy up parts of a town
that has seen better days, but her efforts go beyond Hollywood
colonialism. A trustee of the National Trust for Historic
Preservation, she has become an advocate against overdevelopment in
Kentucky and is working with the University of Kentucky's horticulture
department to develop crops -- like lavender, echinacea and Saint
Johnswort -- that will give new life to aging agricultural lands.
"Without new crops, land is worth little, and that leads to
development," Bruckheimer says, hinting darkly at tract housing and
Bruckheimer "has been like a fairy godmother to us," says
Bloomfield's mayor, Ronnie Bobblett -- who was the town's fire chief
for 15 years. "This is a small town, and there are people who are
envious of her." But, he adds, her efforts "have brought people and
money to Bloomfield." In other words, Bruckheimer is putting her money
where her dreams are.