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You Can Go Home Again
When the lady from L.A. went searching for her roots, she found this great investment: Main Street, U.S.A. By PILAR VILADAS




Linda Bruckheimer in her new role as preservation activist. Photograph by Roe Ethridge.


LINDA BRUCKHEIMER'S FIVE FAVORITE CHILDHOOD MEMORIES:

* Seeing Elvis live at the Armory in Louisville, Ky.
* The cherry Cokes at the Mohawk Drugstore.
* Sunbathing with a stack of Photoplays, a giant bottle of baby oil and iodine.
* Shopping with her mother at Stewart's department store followed by lunch at the Seelbach Hotel.
* Fried chicken and cherry pie at her grandmother's on Sundays.


In 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 Elle.

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 strip malls.

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.


Table of Contents
November 28, 1999




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