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Man of Iron

[whitespace] Historic foundry will fall to the ground after 70 years, to put up a parking lot

By Cecily Barnes

EIGHTY-SIX-YEAR-OLD Paul Garbarino slowly moves across the cement floor as he has every day for the past 53 years. He wears a dirty blue apron around his khaki pants and a baseball cap covering his wispy, white hair. Stepping to the front door of his soon-to-be-demolished Autumn Street iron shop, one block from the San Jose Arena, Garbarino stares keenly from behind his wrinkled skin. "Now I can pay all my bills and I can relax," he says.

After 53 years making fruit dehydration equipment in the shop his father began 70 years ago, Garbarino will retreat to his 10-room Willow Glen home on Willow Street and relax. But the spry senior assures he will not retire; he will work on projects at home.

"I built my own patio, you know," he says proudly. "I added to it, 25 to 30 feet."

Garbarino Machine and Iron Works opened in 1928, when founder Paul P. Garbarino left the San Jose Foundry to start his own business. For the next 70 years, Paul and his sons designed and handcrafted fruit dehydration and stacking equipment for the agricultural giants of yesteryear, clients such as Mariani's Packing Company, Sunsweet and CalPrune Packing House. The shop also fixed machinery for businesses unrelated to fruit, such as the San Jose Mercury News.

Even after the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley were razed to make space for high-tech campuses, fruit-packing companies in the San Joaquin Valley and around the world continued to purchase Garbarino equipment.

"We get the work because we do good work," Garbarino says proudly. "A lot of our customers we've had for 40 years."

In Garbarino's office an aged bulletin board displays yellowing obituaries of clients and friends who have since passed on--Joseph Robino of Valley View Packing Company, John Cantoni of Sunsweet, and Edmund of Mirassou Winery.

"These were all good customers; we sold to every one of them," he says. "It's a funny feeling to sit down and you can't even call them." Having outlived most of his peer group, including spouses from two marriages, Garbarino has learned to live with death. But Garbarino has some family remaining. His sister, Marie, lives in Willow Glen and his younger brother, Edwin, lives in Eureka. Paul, the oldest child in the Garbarino family, has passed away.

The Garbarino clan grew up in a house with kerosene lanterns, well water and no telephones. The highlight of George Garbarino's young life was when Joe DiMaggio took him up to San Francisco with the purpose of enrolling him in professional baseball.

"But my mom wouldn't sign the papers," he says. "She said, you go down and work with your dad. It was the Depression and we were a family."

All three Garbarino boys started working at their dad's shop straight out of high school, with George and his older brother, Paul, taking time off to serve in World War II. Their sister, Marie, worked as the shop's bookkeeper until she married her father's employee, Frank Mabie.

Garbarino leans over and puts his mouth to a stream of water that shoots from the cement work sink on the shoproom floor, a far cry from an Alhambra water cooler. Garbarino laughs that drinking from a sink is an unusual practice today. "I drink out of the creek sometimes," he says. "We had well water; growing up, we drank anything."

Outside the building, piles of scrap metal lie in unruly stacks, like scattered memories. A wire fence separates Garbarino's shop from the Los Gatos Creek, where he and his brothers used to spear enormous fish. Photos on the office wall show the men proudly displaying their catches.

"I used to take my gun and hunt right out there," he says. "If I did that now, I'd be arrested."

Within six months, bulldozers hired by the SJW Land Company will flatten Paul P. Garbarino Machine and Iron Works to make room for an asphalt parking lot. The lot will be used for a new restaurant planned at the corner of Autumn and West Santa Clara streets. This development begins a series of moves by the city of San Jose to develop a commercial strip along Autumn, says SJW Land property manager William Moore.

"If you look at the Midtown Specific Plan, that area is slowly evolving for restaurants and other commercial uses," Moore says. "With the light rail coming into Diridon [train station], it's going to be a tremendously popular entrance into the Arena."

Garbarino squints at the bright sun pouring down on Autumn Street. He remembers when the street was widened to make room for the Arena. He remembers the street before it was paved. And he realizes what a long time it's been that San Jose has had the Paul P. Garbarino Machine and Iron Works. But he isn't sad about or bitter or afraid of the changes. Garbarino has seen that all things must pass.

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From the September 17-23, 1998 issue of Metro.

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