IBM Building 025: San Jose’s historical landmark unrealized.

The historical importance of building 025 goes un-noticed by most residents of south San Jose as they are mostly new to the area. I too found myself wanting when it came to understanding the role that IBM Building 025 played on the world stage of early tech in the late 50’s and on through the 90’s. The building has architectural significances like no other from the mid 50’s era. It’s modern industrial style was un-matched and stood out as an example of creativity at it’s best.

Tech-lab’s and most offices in the buildings interior were constructed with the ideal that the visual characteristics of the exterior and the surrounding landscape should be included in the overall theme, look, and feel of the site throughout. Large glass exterior/interior walls were common, allowing the outdoor landscape to become part of the interior. With the goal of creating a workplace that was comfortable and stress-free, building designer John Savage Bolles crafted and molded building materials, art, and nature into an award winning site.

Remember the when the dot-com boom was in full swing right around 1998/99? Bay Area tech firm treated employees like royalty. The work place/space was a wonderland of comfort wrapped-up in a stress-free environment. Employees never wanted for anything! I have a sneaking suspicion that IBM may have started that trend in the late 50’s and throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Rumor has it that employees of Building 025 were very well taken care of, but I’ll have to ask my father-in-law who was a chemists for IBM back then. I believe his team was instrumental in the development of the IBM Selectric electric typewriter. IBM Building 025 was named plant of the year by Factory Maintenance & Management back in 1958.

IBM Building 02501 IBM Building 02502

Most notable IBM Building 025 was instrumental in the development of the computer hard drive, earlier know as the “hard-disk drive” or “flying head disc drive”. IBM Building 025 was IBM’s Advanced Research center, and where big-brain people (wearing double pocket protectors) worked all the kinks and bugs out of the first hard disk drive called “RAMAC” (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control). It was debuted on September 13, 1956 with 5 megabytes of storage in a device the size of a refrigerator and weighing in at almost ton. The actual proof of concept for the hard drive was conceived in an IBM lab located at 99 Notre Dame Avenue here in San Jose. IBM opened the new hard disk drive manufacturing plant (and Building 025) at 5600 Cottle Road in South San Jose in 1956. The entire area is now part of a big redevelopment project now underway. Abandoned Building 025 and a few other still occupied by Hitachi are all that remains of the plant.

Today it’s a sad sight to see with it’s overgrown weeds, graffiti, trash, and trees that desperately need pruning. I drive by it sometimes on my way too or from work, remembering that “everything” started here. IBM Building 025 has remained in some stalled stage of review by the Historic Landmarks Commission over the last year or so, the question of it’s fate still in limbo. Knock it all down, or keep some of it standing….what will the final decision be? One thing is for sure, Lowe’s big-box hardware store will get built in that spot…..count on it! I’m willing to bet that even-tho IBM Building 025 qualifies as a candidate city landmark under San Jose’s historic preservation ordinance, the lure of big profit will prevail, and Silicon Valleys historical past will have to get out of the way of big business and their shopping carts. At best, all we can hope for is some kind of tribute wall, plaque, or tree planted in honor of the computer industry’s most significant technology, and IBM’s legacy.

No Trespassing. Void of duty. Adrift and forgotten. A desolate sense of loss.

So remember all you south San Jose Lowe’s shoppers! As you stand in the New Lowe’s parking lot observing yet another door-ding in your fender, no doubt courtesy of a fellow Lowe’s customer who can’t make use of his/her rear view mirrors on that overloaded SUV…..ha ha! Take time to remember that fancy 500GB hard drive on your desk at home is a direct descendant of the 5MB hard drive created here 51 years ago.

….and be courteous to your fellow Lowe’s shoppers by returning you shopping cart to the shopping cart staging area. Thank You.

3 Comments so far

  1. joann Landers (unregistered) on June 26th, 2007 @ 9:42 pm

    The new shopping center at the corner of Curtner Avenue and Monterey Highway, where the General Electric plant once stood, will include a preserved portion of the original building.

  2. randramble (unregistered) on June 27th, 2007 @ 7:42 am

    Super stuff, yet again, Dred!

  3. Victor Solanoy (unregistered) on June 27th, 2007 @ 11:18 am

    Dred — great info! The irony is that it was the invention next door to Lowe’s that makes box stores like possible. There’s an incredible amount of technology required to run stores with vast amounts of inventory in order to make them profitable.

    Joann — I noticed that. It was nice to see that they kept a little it of history with the former GE plant. I wonder what it’s going to be used for…. might make a nice historical museum for Si Valley.

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