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November 18, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, November 18, 2005

Famed HP garage gets face-"lift" Famed HP garage gets face-"lift" (November 18, 2005)

Newly restored garage, raised 6 inches, provides insight into how "Bill" and "Dave" lived, worked

by Bill D'Agostino

Technology buffs place the Hewlett-Packard garage on a pedestal, revering it as the iconic locale where two young tinkering engineers created an audio oscillator, built a company and launched Silicon Valley.

Therefore, it's fitting that recently the foundation of the simple, box-like structure was literally raised six inches, which will keep termites from continuing to gnaw the Douglas-fir walls.

"It helps to protect it for the future," said Anna Mancini, Hewlett-Packard Company's archivist, as she stood outside the green doors of the newly restored garage located at 367 Addison Ave. in Palo Alto.

The well-regarded project to refurbish the historic, if plain, garage was begun in January and is now nearly complete. Contractors were paving an outdoor walkway this week.

Unfortunately for the visitors who make pilgrimages to the site, sometimes by the busload, the 12-foot-by-18-foot detached garage will not be open for public tours.

"We want to be respectful of the neighbors," said Emily Horn, HP's manager of corporate media relations. It can, however, be mostly seen from the sidewalk through a new iron gate.

A private ribbon cutting is planned for Dec. 6.

Restoring the garage -- California Registered Landmark No. 976 -- was exacting work. The wooden planks were taken apart, individually catalogued, sanded and -- if they were in decent condition -- returned. The company followed U.S. Department of the Interior standards for the refurbishment, according to Mancini.

Steel beams were also sunk in the new foundation to secure the structure. "Now it'll make it through the next earthquake," Mancini said.

The work on the garage is only one part of a larger project. The single-family house -- where newlyweds David and Lucile Packard lived in 1938-1939, when the company was founded -- was also restored to how it looked in the late 1930s and early 1940s using historical documents.

Most strikingly, vibrant brown shingles, with forest-green trim, have replaced the drab tan exterior.

"I certainly regard it as one of the finest restorations ever done in the Bay Area," said Dennis Backlund, the City of Palo Alto's historic-preservation planner. The home, he said, went from nondescript to one with an impressive design. "I was bowled over when I saw it, I really was."

Among other exterior restorations: A porch has been returned to the front of the home; an unattractive back porch and staircase have been removed; and an original dormer was recreated.

The tiny shed where Bill Hewlett lived at the time -- located behind the house, adjacent to the garage -- has also been refreshed. The 18-foot-by-8-foot structure is barely large enough for the cot and sink inside; a quick look provides an interesting insight into the bachelor's presumably simple lifestyle.

The company founders, who met as undergraduates at Stanford University in the early 1930s and are now deceased, rented their homes for $45 a month from Ione Spencer, the widow of Palo Alto's first mayor, Dr. John C. Spencer. One of the interesting finds during the restoration work was a checkbook that belonged to the Spencers, who built the home in 1905.

One check register helped HP discover that the house was subdivided in 1918 from a single-family home to two apartments. Because the document had lived so long in the attic next to the chimney, Mancini said, "It smelled like smoke."

HP purchased the property in 2000, reportedly for $1.7 million. In the rooms of all three buildings, company employees have placed historic artifacts, like a ham radio, Peninsula Creamery milk bottles and a drill press similar to the one that constituted much of the early company's original capital.

"We're just trying to evoke the mood," Mancini said.

The stove in the kitchen is the same model as the one used to bake the paint on the famed 200A audio oscillator, ordered by the Walt Disney Studios and used for the original "Fantasia" movie.

A pullout bed, in a cabinet, is in dining room. Lucile Packard, who was the company's first bookkeeper, said the couple would move the dining room table every night and pull down their Murphy bed, Mancini said.

Walking around the various modest buildings, discussing the company's fabled beginnings, Mancini remarked: "You can kind of put yourself in their shoes."

Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at

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