Red Barn advocates get more time

The Red Barn in Christmas Hill Park - birds eye view

GILROY—Advocates for the Red Barn lodged within Christmas Hill Park have bought the aging structure that has been boarded up since the 1990s a bit more time.
Instead of demolishing the barn as planned, which supporters say was likely built prior to 1900 and owned by cattle baron Henry Miller, city officials have agreed to wait until April before calling the bulldozers.
“If they can come up with the money or a plan for what they want to do, I’m giving them more time to do that,” Mayor Don Gage said. “It’s only fair.”
The barn’s advocates, who dubbed themselves the Save the Red Barn Committee, collected enough money to make repairs to the building’s corrugated metal roofing—panels that have been battered by the elements for decades. Over time, gaps in the panels grew. The building’s only living occupants now are bats, birds and feral cats.
While Gage said he was happy to give barn supporters additional time, the city cannot wait forever. The bird nesting period begins in April, and if the city waits longer than that, demolition simply cannot proceed.
“There is really no rush to demolish it,” Red Barn Committee Member Gary Walton said. “If the city is really going to work with us, they need to retract the money set aside to demolish the barn. It would show they’re working in good faith and it would make it easier to raise funds and get support. We’ve already exceeded what a lot of people have done, even without a firm commitment from the city.”
The committee has supporters on the council, but it’s performance over the course of a year has been met with mixed reviews.
Council Member Terri Aulman said it’s been “refreshing” to see a group of residents working behind the scenes to come up with their own solutions to a problem the city has thrown up its hands trying to address. She said unless engineers determine the structure is an imminent threat to public safety, she’d consider rescinding the demolition order.
“If they’re working hard and doing what they can, we need to support them,” Aulman said. “It’s great to see this kind of community spirit and I want to support that. They realize upfront we’ve got a lot of priorities in Gilroy and unfortunately this is not a top priority. They’re not depending on the city for finance and they’re looking at all the available options.”
Council Member Perry Woodward, who initially made the motion last year to stay demolition, expressed support for what the group is trying to do but skeptical that a bit more time will do the trick.
“I am sympathetic to wanting to save the barn. I think it’s a nice feature out there,” he said. “But my sympathy is tempered by cold hard dollars and the lack of a business plan…I have a lot of questions.”
On the other hand, some committee members admit that fundraising to save a building that has an expiration date has been a challenge. With more buy-in from the city, they argue fundraising could be easier.
“It’s very difficult to raise funds when you don’t have the city behind you,” Red Barn Committee Member Richard Perino noted. “If people know a building is being demolished, why should they donate?”
While the No. 1 goal for the committee remains to prevent the Red Barn from being demolished, the group has discussed what the 120-year-old structure could transform into to complete its metamorphosis from a long-forgotten relic to a shining community center.
“We feel that the barn, in conjunction with a concept that celebrates our agricultural history, could become a destination—just as much as the Gilroy Gardens or the Outlets,” Walton said. “It adds another element to the community to bring people here and it would educate new residents about the history of Gilroy.”
Advocates posit Henry Miller, one of the most influential land-owning cattle barons in American history, built the barn on his estate. Red Barn Committee Member Kathy Chavez said by the time of Miller’s death in 1916, he accumulated between 3.5 and 4.5 million acres in the Western states but controlled much more.
While Gage said he had no problem giving the group more time, the barn sits on land that could be currently used by members of the community.
“Right now we don’t have the money to build, so we’re not going to put anything in that spot,” he clarified, pointing out the property could be a soccer field for children, for example. “But because the barn is sitting there, it can’t be used for anything.”
The city council is expected to discuss the Red Barn at an upcoming meeting before April, according to City Administrator Tom Haglund.
At that point though, Woodward said he wants to hear answers.
“I’ll be looking to hear from them on how the efforts have gone, how much they’ve raised, how they want to spend it and that sort of thing,” he said. “It was not clear they had, despite the passage of a year, come up with a viable solution.”
The committee asserts that the barn, and it’s owner Henry Miller, has historic significance that would be sorely missed if the structure indeed comes down.
“If we tear stuff down, we become Anyplace, USA,” Walton added.