The history of our company begins in Italy where James Ghilotti, our founder, learned stone masonry from his father and grandfather.
At the age of 18, James left Italy and ventured to South Africa. For the next four years, James worked in the Kimberly Diamond Mines with two of his uncles. Having saved most of the money he had earned during that four-year period, James returned to Italy, but soon he grew restless and had the urge to travel. The opportunity to travel arose when an uncle, residing in San Rafael, invited James to come to the United States. James arrived in California shortly after the 1906 earthquake and began practicing his craft of stone masonry. His early work included beautifully meticulous masonry on the Blue Rock Inn in Larkspur and the Alpine Dam.
James Ghilotti returned to Italy about four years later, where he met and married his wife, Amalia. The couple originally planned to settle in James’ hometown of Grosio, but the land of “La Fortuna” beckoned, and he returned to Marin County with Amalia and their six-month-old son, William.
James set up his shop at 1329 Fourth Street in San Rafael. By means of a horse-drawn sled, James carted rocks down from the hills of Marin and Sonoma counties. These rocks were then transferred to wagons and hauled throughout the counties while James painstakingly performed mason work by hand. He built some of the area’s first concrete retaining walls and concrete patios, some of which still stand today, including the rock walls at the Blue Rock Inn. Today, much of his work remains a testament to his fine craftsmanship.
James and Amalia had five sons, William (Willie), Dino, Mario, Dante, Henry (Babe) and a daughter, Nancy. As the years passed, James’ sons, Willie, Dino, Babe and Mario, worked in the family business (Dante passed at a young age), and the company prospered. James took great pride in his sons’ accomplishments, and in true Italian fashion rewarded them appropriately. In 1939, he changed the company name to James Ghilotti and Sons.
After all four sons served their country during World War II, the sons returned to the family construction business, which at the time consisted primarily of small grading and paving jobs. Wanting to expand their knowledge, the boys began attending seminars and taking courses in construction techniques. As their knowledge expanded, so did the business, and soon the small jobs became larger, and the company’s services expanded. They got into concrete tilt-ups, then earthwork and demolition, and finally, paving and underground work.
By introducing these new construction techniques, the company began to diversify. Thus started the wheels turning in the direction of the dramatic expansion the company would experience in the years to come.
In 1950, after years of hard work and wanting to retire, James Ghilotti sold the company and changed its name to Ghilotti Bros., Inc. In 1960, Henry (Babe) Ghilotti left the company to join Elmo Magiorra and start Magiorra and Ghilotti in San Rafael, along with the help of Babe’s sons, Gary, Glenn, and Greg. In 1967, Willie died, leaving the company in the care of Dino and Mario for the next 45 years.
During the subsequent years, Ghilotti Bros., Inc. grew from gross sales of $20 million annually to over $100 million during the 1980’s. Dino passed away in 1990, and his son, Richard (Dick) worked with Mario running the company. In 1992, Richard (Dick) Ghilotti left the company to start Ghilotti Construction Company with Jim Ghilotti (Babe’s son) with its headquarters based in Santa Rosa.
In 1992, Mario, the last surviving brother, teamed up with his wife, Eva, to continue the business with their two sons, Michael (Mike) and Dante, serving as vice-presidents. Mike and Dante purchased the company from Mario and Eva in 2000, successfully bringing Ghilotti Bros., Inc. into its third generation of ownership.
James’ philosophy, “Earn respect by doing a job well, treat employees with courtesy and respect, and do good work for the community in which you live and work,” has been carried on and remains an integral part of the company’s driving force today. Ghilotti Bros., Inc. has grown considerably since its beginning in 1914 but has remained a family-owned and operated business. Today, Ghilotti Bros., Inc., is a multi-million dollar company and one of the largest employers of construction personnel in Northern California.