A large reinforced concrete grain mill has stood on little more than an acre of land in Paso Robles for almost a century. It was built by local almond orchard farmers to help process a booming industry that had created a self-proclaimed Almond Capital of the World. Called the Farmers Alliance building, it holds a lot of history and thanks to a city that wants to preserve its heritage and a company willing to work with state historical standards, the past and present live on.
After the Civil War, a large group of small and hard-pressed farmers (caused by drought in the MidWest), along with ranchers, formed a national populist organization named the Farmers Alliance, which was started as a way of uniting non-land owning cultivators against the railroads. They had strong family bonds and believed in mutual cooperation.
In Paso Robles, the Paso Robles Almond Growers Association (PRAGA) was formed (it was a co-op) after the turn-of-the-century. By the beginning of the Roaring 20s, a building was needed by a burgeoning industry that had escalated to the point of having more acres of almonds planted than anywhere else in the world.
Almonds to grain
However, with the advent of the Great Depression, production was down and the building was eventually sold to the Farmers Alliance Business Association (FABA) to process grain. They continued ownership of the popular pink building for several decades but with smaller ranches moving in along with the advent of grape-growing, the need for a grain building waned and the organization finally dissolved in the mid-’70s.
Having been unused for almost 30 years, it was believed that food and supply chain Smart & Final purchased the property, but the deal never came to fruition, in-part due to our current Great Recession. One of the oldest commercial buildings in town, the place was run-down and an eye-soar with weeds, a faded rusty exterior along with broken concrete and dirt.
However, just about four years ago, Ray and Pam Derby of Derby Wine Estates bought the property from Smart & Final knowing the historical ramifications. With that, a renovated building with enormous local history was preserved with a new chapter. Derby Wine Estates is composed of three properties throughout the North County area of San Luis Obispo County. They were leasing a facility but now produce their wine at their new property.
Heck of a project
After three years of reconstruction, the Derby’s have done an excellent job of keeping the originality of the building intact including the tower that stands in the middle of the building. The remodel is both a production facility and a tasting room and yet at a glance, it doesn’t look much different than it did many years ago. The tower now has been converted into a VIP lounge called the Almond Room.
At first just grape growers, the Derby’s have been producing their own wine for nearly a decade and now are generating their wines from the former Farmers Alliance Building. It officially opened in April of this year.
The building stands for anyone to see from Hwy 101, as a legacy of a bygone era. From almonds to grain and now finally grapes, this institution of a building’s legacy appears set to continue being a part of the heritage of Paso Robles for years to come.
Daryle W. Hier