Apples have held an important and special place in Sebastopol and West County Sonoma from the early days of California’s statehood. Apple production in the area exploded after Luther Burbank helped cultivate the Gravenstein variety in the late 19th century. By the beginning of the 20th century, apple production surged alongside wine-grape growing across Sonoma County. Prohibition crippled wine making and apple production surged well into the 1950’s as one of the county’s largest and most important industries.
Thomas Barlow and his family established themselves as important apple and berry farmers in these early years. In 1939 two of Thomas Barlow’s sons constructed an applesauce canning facility to process apples from the more than 11,000 acres of orchards nearby. Several of the original structures remain in The Barlow, while newer structures added during its redevelopment echo the architectural style and design of the old processing and canning plant.
The second half of the 20th century saw a significant shift away from apples and to wine-grape growing. Today, the once expansive orchards in and around Sebastopol have shrunk to production valued at roughly $5 million per year, compared to wine-grape production value of more than $500 million per year.
As apple production waned, the Barlow applesauce cannery reduced its production and eventually closed. The property changed into a collection of small manufacturers and the buildings slowly fell into disrepair. By the start of this century several of the old buildings were vacant or sparsely used, and most required significant improvements and renovation. In fact, several of the old buildings were simply too far gone to save. The Barlow- once vibrant, active, and important- had become a neglected and declining campus in need of a new vision.
In 2005, Barney Aldridge acquired The Barlow property from his mentor, Ken Martin. At the time, the property consisted of 7 buildings which housed industrial tenants such as Bronze Plus Art Foundry, Guayaki Yerba Mate, Wolfard Glassblowing, The Sebastopol Center for the Arts, and Innovative Molding, a bottle cap manufacturing company.
With intentions to redevelop the project, Barney worked with local architects and designers to conceptualize a redevelopment of the former apple cannery, now dilapidated factory space at the gateway to West County.
After several revisions to the plan and feedback from the City locals to keep the nature true to Sebastopol, finally a plan would come to fruition to incorporate the site’s history of manufacturing, and the towns love of small town, local charm.
While finalizing construction plans and seeking Lending, Barney took his vision to the people and began hand curating a roster of local producers, with the intention of creating a “makers marketplace” where the public could witness the production of some of their favorite products, with a behind the scenes look at how those products were made, and most importantly, who was making them.
With a mission to create and maintain a community where people would enjoy art, wine and time together, The Barlow was born. With brewers, artists and wine makers, came funding for the 30-million-dollar project. In 2012, construction was underway for the planned 18-building new and renovated project, with plans to expand McKinley street, for better connectivity to the downtown core.
Within a year, the project was near completion with tenants lined up ready to begin tenant improvements for their new hub. Since, this local artisan production campus has attracted tourists by offering a wine country experience all within 4 city blocks, and pleased locals with its ode to the Barlow history.