August 14, 2016
Behind a wide, nondescript door off a side street in Santa Barbara’s Eastside, Gerry Endeman surrounds himself with the tools of his trade—welders, cutters, grinders, files, and all the attendant safety gear. As a welder and business partner at Elephant Iron, Endeman’s work runs the gamut, from bidding and designing to fabricating and installing. At the core of it, though, he’s an artist (pictured, above, working on an elegant entry gate, shown installed, below).
Endeman grew up in Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley, a creative kid who took a year of art classes at Allan Hancock College on scholarship before joining the Navy. After a year in Italy, he transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he took up welding and spent three years repairing warships. Back home in Santa Ynez, he found a lot of welding work on agricultural operations and spent a lot of time developing a hydraulic dump trailer for some local farmers and ranchers. “I still see some of those around town,” Endeman says matter-of-factly, with a hint of pride. He joined Elephant Iron about 25 years ago.
Back then, the small business was simply called Peter Grimm Welding, operated out of the back of Grimm’s beat-up Volvo wagon. Grimm, who also grew up in Santa Barbara, found his knack for welding at Santa Barbara City College, where he took night classes while working days at Santa Barbara Zoo, training and tending to elephants, sea lions, and parrots, among other attractions. Soon enough, the zoo started hiring Grimm for his welding skills, and his career slowly shifted from zookeeper to full-time welder, around 1985. “The elephants were my weld inspectors,” Grimm remembers with a laugh. Among other memorable projects, Grimm built the zoo’s first lion cage. (Turns out, Endeman has also built a lion cage, at Neverland Ranch, where he also created a steep walkway and platform from which Michael Jackson could pet his giraffe.)
Grimm changed the name to Elephant Iron about 15 years ago, honoring his old four-ton friends at the zoo. These days, Endeman and Grimm are partners, Grimm heading up the paperwork department while Endeman shines in his creative element of conceptualizing, drawing, and fabricating high-end ironwork. “We certainly aren’t the cheapest shop in town,” Endeman says. “But we do the nicest work.”
As for their longstanding collaborations with Giffin & Crane, Grimm takes comfort in the fact that he and Endeman have confidence in the building team, and vice versa. “Working with Giffin & Crane, we all know that each person is always moving toward solutions,” Grimm says. “They’re totally honest guys, and we’re lucky to have a solid relationship with them.”
(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Holly Lepere)