On March 8, 2008, a fire consumed IBM Building 025. Now, in a parking lot in south San José, between a Lowe’s and an AutoZone, a tiny monument memorializes what was once Silicon Valley’s pioneering tech campus.
Built in 1957, the campus was the design of the architect John S. Bolles. Under the mandate of IBM’s president, Thomas J. Watson, Jr., he was instructed to blend “architecture, landscape and art into an employee-friendly environment,” notes an explanatory display sign.
If that sounds familiar, it should: many a Silicon Valley tech campus uses those same elements to inspire their employees. Notable muralist Lucienne Bloch designed ceramic mosaics that suggested computer punch cards to cover wide swaths of the buildings, and brick structures with floor-to-ceiling glass windows were connected by patios and walkways.
The environment seems to have proved a creative one. Engineers at the research laboratory within IBM Building 025 developed “flying head” disc drive technology, making real-time processes such as online shopping and Internet communication possible. IBM proudly hosted Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev at the campus in 1959. Reportedly unimpressed with the technology on display, he instead fell in love with the company’s self-service cafeteria.
But by 1996, Building 025 stood empty. The company gradually shifted its employees elsewhere. In 2003, Lowe’s Home Improvement decided to build a store on the site of the former campus. Local preservationists protested, and the building stayed in limbo until the fire settled the matter once and for all. Lowe’s funded the tiny memorial, with its brick walls and steel trellises clearly calling back to the lost laboratory, and both their own big-box building and the nearby AutoZone are covered in Lucienne Bloch-style mosaics.
Know Before You Go
The small pavilion commemorating IBM Building 025 is between the Lowe's and the AutoZone.