Hewlett-Packard employees in Palo Alto are working to save the house and one-car garage — dubbed the birthplace of Silicon Valley...
Hewlett-Packard employees in Palo Alto are working to save the house and one-car garage — dubbed the birthplace of Silicon Valley — where William “Bill” Hewlett and David Packard began manufacturing their first product in 1939.
“We took the whole thing apart and are rebuilding it using the original frame and original 52 boards,” said archivist Anna Mancini, who’s overseeing the restoration. “We want to do it right. We want to do everything right.”
After dismantling the 12-foot-by-18-foot garage, sanding down the boards to eliminate termites and reinforcing the frame to withstand earthquakes, workers nailed the original Douglas-fir planks back into place June 30. Restoration continues on the garden shed and the house, where workers numbered chimney bricks so they could be reassembled in their original places.
Employees are so interested in the project that Mancini maintains a Web site that charts its progress. Started in April 2004 by former Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina, the project may be completed this year. Fiorina was replaced in February by Mark Hurd after earnings slumped.
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Hewlett and Packard, who met as students at nearby Stanford University, chose the house at 367 Addison Ave. because it had a garage they could use as a workshop, Mancini said.
“People like to visit some place and say, boy, right here, this happened,” said David Kirby, who was hired by Packard in 1962 to set up a public-relations department. “It’s part of history.”
Packard and his wife, Lucile, shared a three-room apartment on the first floor of the house, built in 1905. Then unmarried, Hewlett lived in the garden shed, an 8-by-18-foot bunkhouse with a dirt floor, a few yards from the garage.
“It was the Depression,” Mancini said. “There was not a lot of housing and they were graduate students with not a lot of money.”
Hewlett and Packard shared the $45-a-month rent. After Hewlett married and moved out, the bunkhouse became the company’s first business office.
Hewlett-Packard was started with $538 in capital, including cash and the value of the used Sears, Roebuck drill press owned by Packard, the company said. Now the world’s largest maker of computer printers, Hewlett-Packard had earnings of $3.5 billion on sales of $79.9 billion last year.
The company’s Web site includes a photo of Hewlett and Packard at work in the garage around the time they developed their first product, an audio oscillator used by sound engineers. Mancini used the image to figure out how the place looked, with its exposed wiring and pitched roof.
“It was pretty empty,” she said. “Just a few tools.”
One of the duo’s first customers was Walt Disney Studios, which bought eight oscillators to test a sound system designed for the animated movie “Fantasia,” released in 1940.
After giving up the rental in 1940, Hewlett and Packard didn’t visit the garage again until 1989. Kirby said he had to prod them into attending ceremonies to mark the company’s 50th anniversary.
“I had Bill and Dave walk up the driveway and go into the old garage, and they started reminiscing,” said Kirby, 81, who co-edited “The HP Way,” Hewlett and Packard’s book detailing the origins of the company. “When they came back down the driveway, the employees who’d come from around the world to attend the ceremony — boy, they were cheering and applauding.”
Packard died in 1996, Hewlett in 2001.
Hewlett-Packard bought the property in 2000, 13 years after the garage was designated California Registered Landmark No. 976. Kirby said he nicknamed the garage “the birthplace of Silicon Valley” in 1989, which amused Hewlett and Packard.
“‘The birthplace, really?’ Bill Hewlett said to me,” said Kirby, who retired from Hewlett-Packard in 1989. “‘How were you able to stretch it to that?’ “
“Bill and Dave never cared much about the past,” Kirby said when asked what the company founders might have thought of the renovation. “If you brought up something about past history, they’d just wave their hands and say ‘That’s all gone. Let’s talk about the future.’ “
Mancini doesn’t know how much the company paid for the property, which now sits among multimillion-dollar homes in a tree-lined neighborhood about 30 miles south of San Francisco. The site is just a 20-minute drive from another famous garage in Los Altos, where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple Computer. Jobs and Wozniak met as teenagers in 1968 while working at Hewlett-Packard.
Hewlett-Packard has no plans to turn the site into a tourist destination. Instead, the property will probably be used occasionally for small meetings, said Sid Espinosa, a company spokesman.