This column appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on October 19, 2000. I’m posting it as part of my coverage of a Los Altos man’s elaborate plan to turn Steve Jobs’ boyhood home into a museum complex.
So, the kids at Hewlett-Packard finally made the ranks of Silicon Valley homeowners.
I’m happy for them, really.
They got themselves a deal. A garage in Palo Alto for $1.7 million. And it came with a house. A house in Palo Alto for under $2 million. Not bad.
I’m happy, but worried, too. Worried because I’m not sure the kids have thought this out.
“We don’t have any finalized plans for it, ” said Greg Winter, HP’s manager for the project.
Me? I’ve got my own idea, but more on that later.
First, I’m wondering if HP isn’t acting a bit like one of those overnight dot-com millionaires? (You remember overnight dot-com millionaires, don’t you?) I could see it happening. After all, the company made $3.5 billion in profits last year.
“Only $1.7 million? Cool. We’ll figure out what to do with it later.”
See. Want. Buy.
And now the kids have themselves a house and a garage.
Not just any garage, The Garage. The sagging one-car number behind 367 Addison Ave., where Hewlett-Packard was born in 1938. The spot from which Silicon Valley grew, according to every primer on this place. You can even read the story on the historic plaque outside HP’s new house.
A new house in Palo Alto brings whispers. The housing market in SiliconValley is like a sport, and Palo Alto is the Super Bowl. It’s not so much getting a deal, as getting a house at any price.
The real estate ads are the racing form. Watch readers. First stop: real estate ads. Some just move their lips, others exclaim out loud.
“Oh, my God!”
Which is to say that now that word is out, the kids at HP better brace for the rumors. Their deal was slightly mysterious, custom made for rumoring.
The Garage was never listed. So in the land of multiple offers, there apparently was only one. (Save some likely wrangling with previous owner Restored Properties.)
And HP is coy about the whole thing, the way some first-time buyers are. Bill Reller, whose partnership owned the house, was traveling in Europe and couldn’t be reached.
Winter did say this: The opportunity arose. HP bought. The first order of business will be restoring the garage.
Certainly, the garage makes a nice corporate trophy. And saving it is a good thing. But the question remains: Why now? Yes, there have been big changes at HP. Last year, Carly Fiorina became the first outsider to run HP.
She’s been big on sizzle. She launched an ad featuring herself and The Garage (well, a garage). HP couldn’t get permission to use the actual garage in its ads. It built a replica.
So, you can see this scenario in which Fiorina picks up the phone and says, “I want that garage.” See it. Want it. Buy it.
But no, Winter said. That wasn’t it.
Here’s a suggestion
Which gets us back to the question of the company’s plans. It’s ruled out a museum. Too disruptive to the neighborhood. Winter said the company will have a better idea within a few months.
Meantime, here’s mine: Go ahead and save the garage, but give the house to someone who really needs it. Pick a teacher, a cop, a nurse, or someone else who actually keeps this place running.
Crazy you say? I’d say innovative.
The kind of innovation for which somebody just might put up another plaque.