Gary Walton’s passion to revitalize Gilroy, in particular the downtown, began decades ago. In 1987, he built his first residential development on Santa Teresa, and since that time his contributions to the Gilroy community have never stopped.
Walton is a man who personifies what it means to go above and beyond; his exemplary level of dedication and commitment to the community is pervasive in every action.
While a huge advocate for community growth, Walton was still surprised when late last year at a Downtown Gilroy Business Association meeting, Gilroy Chamber of Commerce CEO, Mark Turner, announced Walton been chosen for 2018 Man of the Year. Walton admits he was a bit uncomfortable at being singled out
“He embarrassed me and I turned red,” Walton says. “I really don’t go looking for accolades, I just do the best that I can do.”
Walton says he thinks most people that win these things don’t set out to win, they just do what they enjoy doing.
“If your heart’s in it I think it shows,” he says. “It’s nice to be recognized, I’m honored, really. But is it going to make a difference with what I do with it or without it? No. Because I still have the same passion.”
Walton’s dedication to improve the city of Gilroy and preserve its history is evidenced through his years of involvement in the community. He’s currently the President/Design Committee Chair of the Gilroy Downtown Business Association and president of the Miller Red Barn Association Committee. Walton also serves on the Gilroy Unreinforced Masonry Committee, and is a member of the Gilroy Dispatch Editorial Board.
“I’m just a caretaker, really,” Walton says. “The only thing that I can do is take care of that history, try to make it better and hopefully someone else will appreciate it and take care of it as well as I did when I’m not here anymore.”
Walton’s caretaking includes numerous award-winning construction projects located throughout the city and beyond. The Victorian home on Martin Street, originally owned by Dr. Thayer and built in 1887 is one he’s particularly proud of, as is his relocation of the Morgan Hill Elementary School which received a Governor’s award for preservation.
“I did the Morgan Hill elementary school that was on the corner of Dunne and Monterey,” he says. “We moved that to Llagas. I broke that into 16 pieces and drug it 2.5-miles and put it all back together.”
Relocating buildings is big, but among Walton’s proudest accomplishments is his introduction to mixed-use housing to the downtown area in 1999.
“We’ve built like five or six new mixed-use developments and Morgan Hill hasn’t built anything, we’re the leader,” says Walton.
Walton, father and grandfather of two, was born in Oceanside and graduated from Pacific Grove High School in the mid ’70s. He attended San Jose State where he pursued a double major, business finance and real estate, his two passions.
He moved to Morgan Hill in 1979 and embarked on a career in banking as a real estate appraiser. Soon he moved into construction lending and became vice president in the real estate department at a startup bank.
In 1982, he and an associate went into business together and created Overland Properties. Three years later the business closed and Walton struck out on his own with, Custom One, Inc., a general remodeling and construction business located in Morgan Hill. In 1999 Walton moved his business to Gilroy, where it has remained ever since.
“Back then I just thought it, (Gilroy) had a lot of vitality,” Walton says. “There were always people on the street here—a lot of activity. It’s kind of a unique city in the sense that it really has more of a sense of community than most cities.”
Walton’s love for Gilroy is tied to his love of older neighborhoods, especially those built in the 1920s, which he feels exemplify character of Gilroy.
“Gilroy still has the vestiges of that kind of home town, and really, I think that’s one of the great assets that we really need to continue to develop, is that uniqueness, and that connection that I think a lot of people are looking for,’” Walton says.
In his role as chair of the Downtown Specific Task Force from 2002 to 2005 Walton’s goal was to, “delve deeper into what it takes to make a great downtown and by extension a great community.”
“You can’t have a great downtown without great neighborhoods around it, and you can’t have great neighborhoods without having a great downtown,” he says. “They’re tied together and we really haven’t crossed that threshold.”
The front porch to every community is its downtown, adds Walton.
“For a long time, downtown Gilroy’s been the back door to the community,” he says. “It’s not the first place you take visitors to and it should be. It’s the repository of our history and our culture and those who came before us.”
Local business owners agree that Walton’s continued pursuit of revitalizing downtown is just what the city needs.
“I find him to be such a visionary about what downtowns are about and how they should get back to where they once were,” says David Peoples, owner of Garlic City Mercantile.
“He’s a preservationist and he is a bulldog when it comes to trying to get to where he thinks we need to go.”
Lynne Mosley, owner of Itty Bitty Beauty Boutique agrees with Peoples and believes that Walton is more than worthy of the prestigious award.
“You can tell that Gary has a love of this town and he wants to see the town do better, and better, and better,” says Mosley.
Walton has been pushing for the downtown revitalization for years, and he’s not about to stop now.
“There’s a symbiotic relationship between the downtown and the neighborhoods that surround it,” Walton says.
“We really need to put more effort into our neighborhoods,” he says. “I’ve always seen the potential, it’s trying to convince other people of that potential.”
As enthusiastic as he is about downtown, Walton’s interests and goals expand far beyond.
“I think there are a lot of improvements we can make as a community in terms of economic development, provide jobs for people, lifting everybody’s boat up in terms of wages, and skills, and education,” Walton says.
For Walton, the key here is community revitalization. Over the years he’s come to realize to achieve the innumerable goals he’s set for himself—it will take help. He believes today’s youth are the answer.
“I think younger people, because of social media, they’re not into all the committees, they just want to go and make something happen,” Walton insists. “I think it’s tapping into that, our youth, because I think they want to get stuff done. I’m seeing some of that here. Things are beginning to change.”
On Saturday, Feb. 3, at the Spice of Life Awards, Walton received his award. In his acceptance speech he conveyed pride for those pioneers who came before him and hope for those visionaries who will follow.
“I’d like to believe that I am leaving a trail behind, but I also realize that most of the time, I am walking on a well-worn path that so many others before me have tread, sharing their gifts with Gilroy, believing it would make it a better place along the way,” Walton stated in his speech.
“I want to believe that I have much more to contribute,” he says. “I hope I can blaze new trails that didn’t exist before, so that others may find their way and build on whatever my contributions may have been.”
Walton encourages everyone to, “follow your passions, to share your gifts, to give back to your community, both in time and resources. Make your town, your neighborhood, or your street, a better place. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, LEAVE A TRAIL.”
Everyone in Gilroy would agree, Walton has certainly left his.