Ralph Garrow Sr.    (Courtesy of the Garrow family)
Ralph Garrow Sr. (Courtesy of the Garrow family)

ANTIOCH -- Ralph Garrow Sr., a longtime homebuilder who helped create many homes for first-time buyers as the city grew after World War II, died this week of natural causes at age 96.

Many remember Garrow as a reserved, quiet man who stayed in the background but played a key role in Antioch's first wave of suburban growth.

"He built almost all of the homes, a lot of the subdivisions, before a lot of the big builders came in," said Leo Fontana, a longtime friend and former councilman.

With Dupont's opening in 1956 adding to the city's mix of canneries and manufacturers on the riverfront, Garrow knew that plenty of industrial workers would need homes, Fontana said.

"Dad wanted to provide good houses for veterans and working men and their families," said son Ralph Garrow Jr., who followed in his dad's footsteps in 1977.

Building homes that young families could afford was one of Garrow's hallmarks.

"I always wanted to build something that most of the Antioch people could buy," Garrow Sr. told the Antioch Daily Ledger in a 1982 interview. "We're trying to build communities within themselves" while strengthening the Antioch community.

Born in Stockton, Garrow moved to Antioch in 1941 and met his late wife Eunice Higgins shortly thereafter. He left working with family in downtown Antioch after the attack on Pearl Harbor and enlisted in the Army. He and Eunice were married in Kansas in 1943 before he was deployed overseas, and their marriage lasted 61 years.

While returning home on a ship from the war in 1946, he read a real estate textbook that piqued his interest in the trade, Garrow Jr. said.

"He started right away, and within a couple years started some infill projects off C Street and was buying lots here and there," Garrow Jr. said.

Developments Garrow created during his heyday in the 1950s, '60s and '70s include neighborhoods off Contra Loma, Tregallas near the post office, Garrow Drive, homes around Lake Alhambra called Garrow Estates, Delta Fair Boulevard near County East Mall and some of the condominiums and duplexes in the area off L Street and Sycamore Avenue.

Garrow Sr. also built some of the earliest tract homes in Brentwood and what is now Oakley.

All told, he probably built about 5,000 homes during that four-decade stretch, family members said.

His goal was to strike a balance between affordability and providing some upgrades compared with other homes, Garrow Jr. said.

"His houses were rock solid, and he never cut corners. It was important for to him have a good reputation, to build a good house and stand behind that," Garrow Jr. said. "He also wanted to promote the town and help it grow and be a great place to live."

Garrow Sr. later advised his son as he took over the company.

In his later years, Garrow Sr. became a philanthropist through anonymous gifts to local causes, including behind the scenes with then-Delta Memorial Hospital.

Despite his busy career, family was also extremely important to him.

"He made sure to always look at the clock, and walk in the door by 5:05 p.m.," Garrow Jr. said.

In his later years, he enjoyed long trips to warmer climates with Eunice, golfing and watching the thoroughbred horses he owned race at Golden Gate Fields.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

Epitaph
Name: Ralph Garrow Sr.
Born: Nov. 16, 1917 in Stockton
Died: April 14, 2014 in Brentwood
Survived by: Son Ralph Garrow Jr, of Antioch; daughter Joslyn Vigil of Brentwood; five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife Eunice and 10 brothers and sisters.
Services: A viewing will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday April 24, followed by a service at 11 a.m. at Brentwood Funeral Home, 839 First St. He will be interred at the family plot in Stockton.