Master Carpenter and Furniture Maker John Galbraith Closing Shop
Pictured above is Master Carpenter and Furniture Maker John Galbraith inside his workshop at The Citrus Packing House in Fillmore.
Pictured above is Master Carpenter and Furniture Maker John Galbraith inside his workshop at The Citrus Packing House in Fillmore.
Another Casualty of the City vs Packing House Red Tag

The giant old Packing House building sits quietly in the center of Fillmore, across from the fire station. Traffic hustles on A Street and Landeros Lane, going to school and work. Now and then, fire engines race off to save somebody. Students walk by on the sidewalk. Nobody even looks at the old building, it's just part of the background. It's there, and has been there, for more than 100 years.

But underneath the building is a giant basement, extending the entire length and width of the building, with a giant hallway that runs down the middle, big enough that trucks can drive in and out for loading and unloading. From outside, it all looks quiet. But down below, surrounded by thick concrete, things are happening. Machines are running. Craftsmen are hunched over their benches. Things are being made. It's another working day in the Secret Underground Laboratory.

Today, with special permission, I'm inside, in the basement. It's cool and dark, and I'm venturing deep down the long hallway, rows of compartments and rooms on both sides. Some are being used for storage, some are empty, and some are walled off into private workshops. I find a wooden wall with the sound of a table saw behind it. Built into the wall is an odd Dutch-style door. Odder yet, the Dutch-style door has a pair of miniature doors built into it with a string hanging down. I imagined pulling the string would trigger some kind of puppet play. I learned pulling the string rings a bell that signals a guest has arrived.

I'm visiting the shop of John Galbraith, Master Carpenter and Furniture Maker. John is a tall, strong man with silver hair and weathered hands. He builds custom wood projects of many kinds – special display furniture for commercial stores, complex home office shelving units, parts for boats – and he's always booked with clients. His shop is crowded, full of tools and workbenches, and parts of jobs in progress – teak boards, walnut panels, hand carved trim pieces – the smell of fine sawdust fills the air.

John is full of stories, speaking in many voices with a quick wit. A real character. John has studied acting in the past and still occasionally does small parts for fun. He was born in Ireland, lived in England, and then spent most of his adult years in Toronto, working as a contractor and carpenter. In 1968, John drummed in a blues band with Geddy Lee, who went on to become the front man for the rock band Rush. John moved to the Los Angeles area in 2012 and worked as a contractor out of his garage.

In Los Angeles, John met David Storrs, and did a few contracting jobs for him. David had just bought the Fillmore Packing House building and invited John to ride up and see it, and explained how he wanted to turn the building into a center for small craftsman shops. David suggested John set up a workshop here, and become one of the early tenants. At that time, the only tenant was Steve Butcher, upstairs, restoring Airstream trailers. John put together a quick shop in the basement, and started working from there. As other Craftsman tenants moved in, he moved down the hall to his current spot, and built it up nicely. He's been in his current shop for six years.

John lives in Los Angeles and serves clients all around the city; but his workshop is here in Fillmore. This is where he builds his projects and does the real work, quietly, underground. He's an example of how Craftsman businesses can operate in a small city like Fillmore. He's one of the Secret Underground Craftsmen.

Unfortunately, in August of this year, the City of Fillmore red-tagged the building and locked everyone out of their shops for 5 days. Since then, The City has kept the building yellow-tagged and limited everyone’s access to their shops. The hour and day restrictions have made getting work done difficult for everyone, and people are leaving, including John.

Although John is leaving Fillmore, he is available for hire and hopes to have many excuses to come back to visit the many friends he’s made here in town. You can contact John via his website at