Los Olivos, California , United States
|| June 18, 1939
Jun 17, 2020 04:33pm
|Info||Anthony Brooks Firestone |
Heir to Firestone fortune. Runs a vineyard in the California Central Coast.
Former member of the California state legislature. Ran once for the United States Congress, following the death of Walter Capps, narrowly missing the run-off.
His son was on a recent edition of the television series, "The Bachelor".
By David Giffels
I made a confession to Brooks Firestone.
I told him I had a Camelot complex about his family. A whole Kennedy-style royalty thing.
Then he made a confession to me.
He told me he had recently moved out of a double-wide trailer.
You could have heard a gilded curtain drop.
A Firestone in a double-wide?
Harvey Firestone's grandson and I were sitting in big armchairs in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in the Montrose area when this happened. I suppose this should have been a tip-off. In my fairy tale, Firestones do not stay in strip-mall chain hotels.
But this one was. He's passing through town on a promotional tour for his California winery, Firestone Vineyard, which he runs with his son Adam.
He spent yesterday visiting Akron's West Point Market, signing a few bottles, and visiting with patrons of the Akron Art Museum, which will bring him back to town in June as the guest winemaker for its Akron Wine Auction.
This was the first time we had met. But it was not the first time I had thought about the Firestone mystique.
In 1996 and 1997, when I was working on the yearlong Wheels of Fortune newspaper series and book about the history of Akron's rubber industry, I became the primary researcher on the Firestone family.
History is not an exact science. It is almost impossible not to inject romance into the storytelling. And so, through those two years, surrounded by books, photographs and other artifacts of the Firestone family history, I had gotten caught in the slipstream of a parallel myth.
Harvey Firestone was not just a businessman, but a baron. He lived in a mansion with polo fields. He had five sons (OK, princes) who inherited his kingdom. One of those sons, Leonard, moved to California, where he befriended presidents and movie stars, and became ambassador to Belgium.
Leonard's son Kimball raised thoroughbreds in Maryland. His other son, Brooks, married a dancer with the Royal Ballet in a London cathedral, became a noted winemaker and a member of the California State Assembly, serving from 1994 to 1998.
It was hard not to see it this way, since I had grown up in a city where streets, neighborhoods, a bank, a high school and a sports stadium all bore the Firestone name. Where a bronze monument of company founder Harvey Firestone, seemingly seated on a throne, overlooks his kingdom of factories and office buildings.
Even the name seemed regal, composed of two alchemic elements, fire and stone.
The perfect name for a wine; the perfect name for a dynasty.
Like I said, I had a lot of time to think about this.
An earthier sort
I explained some of this to Brooks Firestone there in the Holiday Inn, and he listened thoughtfully. When I was finished, he seemed not to know exactly how to respond. He is somewhat reserved to begin with, and I think he was a little embarrassed.
He does understand the legacy of his family here. But he seems to see himself as an earthier sort.
The 65-year-old had shrugged off a brown leather jacket as we began our conversation. While he does look more like a legislator than a farmer, he retains some of the ruggedness of those 25-year-old photographs -- him sitting on a wooden cask in the California winery, sipping cabernet with his wife, Kate. His hands are thick and strong, more like those of a tire builder than a tire company heir.
And yes, he and Kate lived for a time in a house trailer on the vineyard grounds about 150 miles north of Los Angeles. More recently, they have taken up residence in an old Victorian house, relocated from 30 miles away and transplanted on the estate.
So he's willing to accept some of the myth of his family history, but he's not so willing to cloak himself in it. ``It was an amazing period of history,'' he acknowledged of his grandfather's era. ``I went to events wide-eyed.''
The path to winemaking
Brooks Firestone worked for the family company from 1959 until 1972. He was born in Akron and lived here till he was 6, then worked here for a few years in the mid-1960s before leaving to head the company's Seiberling operations in Great Britain. During the Akron years, Kate was instrumental in establishing an early version of the Ohio Ballet.
In 1972, Brooks struck out on his own, forming a winery on land his father owned in the Santa Ynez Valley. He was the first winemaker in the Central Coast region, and, considering the apparent leap from the safety net of the family business, some observers painted him as a maverick.
``That wasn't really true,'' he said. ``I'm a thoughtful person who looks at options. Everyone saw that there was not going to be a continuation of the family role in the company. I think I spotted an industry that was just taking off.''
He was right. About the time Firestone Vineyard began corking its first bottles, California wines were quickly gaining worldwide respect. And not long after, the Firestone presence in the tire company diminished as internal and external events radically changed the company. In 1988, as the Firestone reputation was maturing in the wine industry, the tire company was sold to Bridgestone of Japan.
Brooks Firestone's new venture ``was as much about farming and living in the country as winemaking. And there was a certain sophistication to it that other farming would not have.''
In a way, he was leapfrogging back a couple of generations. Harvey Firestone had grown up on a farm; even late in life, he was fond of being photographed in overalls at the family's Columbiana County homestead. The same entrepreneurial spirit that led him to tires led his grandson to wine.
Maybe Brooks Firestone wasn't a maverick. But in 1980, he ``caught hell'' after he was quoted in a magazine saying, ``One day, when you say `Firestone,' you'll think of wine, not tires.''
He explains now that the quote was taken slightly out of context. Even so, the statement has taken on a certain wryness, considering the recall two years ago that deeply damaged the brand name and eventually led to the demise of a corporate relationship that had been personally forged by Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford.
Brooks Firestone doesn't offer much on the subject. It was sad for him to watch, he said. But ``I don't dwell on it.''
He does recognize that his family legacy remains deeply ingrained in Akron. Every time he visits, he takes a drive past the old complex on Firestone Parkway. He thinks about the places in town that bear his family name.
And he can't help but wonder what will transpire in the afterlife, when he is reunited with his famous grandfather. He imagines the old man will look him up and down, cock an eyebrow, and ask the accusatory question: