You've got to worry about a city whose claim to fame is ample
No, San Jose isn't there yet, but it's got a shot. Maybe you've
read about the city's plan to knock down a building where tech
history was made in order to put up a parking garage.
The scheme has caused a ruckus between the city's redevelopment
agency (division of parking proliferation) and the county court
system, which just moved into the building after spending a lot of
your money to renovate it.
But that fight misses the point. The point is the building at 99
Notre Dame Ave. needs to be saved.
In 1952, IBMer Rey Johnson opened the company's first West Coast
lab. Soon Johnson's crew was developing the first magnetic hard disk
drive -- a humongous machine called RAMAC, with disks the size of
trash can lids.
The machine marked the birth of the digital storage technology
that makes possible personal computers, digital cameras, the
Internet and much of the rest of everyday life.
``Basically, no one believed this would work,'' says Al Hoagland,
who worked on the RAMAC and provides a little historical
Ah, historical perspective. Hoagland says work at the Notre Dame
lab went a long way to making Silicon Valley what it is today.
So, what kind of city would eradicate history and a potential
claim to fame?
Hint: All in the same day in November, San Jose City Council
members voted to begin the process of declaring 99 Notre Dame a
historic landmark and then voted for a parking plan that calls for
tearing the historic building down. (Who needs a historic building
when you've got a historic spot?)
This is the same city with a plan to hire street musicians and
mimes to give downtown a little character. What's next? Hiring
squeegee guys to annoy drivers at traffic lights?
In short, this is a city that sometimes confuses style for
substance and often ends up with neither.
Hoagland, who today runs the Institute for Information Storage
Technology at Santa Clara University, would like to build a museum
in the old lab. A museum that would show us all the importance of
what went on there.
It's not a technology story, he says. It's a sociological story.
A story of an invention that really did change the world.
But Hoagland's idea would require city help. And that's not good
This is the city whose redevelopment agency watched the county
spend $3 million to turn 99 Notre Dame into a Family Court annex
without clearly warning the court about its plans to knock the place
down. (Wouldn't want to spoil the surprise.)
It's not as if there is no hope. In February, the court let
Hoagland and his Magnetic Disk Heritage Center put up seven photo
panels that tell the story of 99 Notre Dame. (To find the exhibit,
empty your pockets, remove your belt and pass through the metal
And there is still time. While the city council did accept a
recommendation to build a 965-space garage where the historic
building is now, it will take months or years to acquire the
property and work out the fine details. The council could still
decide to do something smart -- find another place to park or build
a garage around the building.
Or the city could try my solution: Let the court stay through the
remaining six years of its lease with owner Barry Swenson Builders.
Then buy the building and work with Hoagland on the museum. But that
is getting ahead of the game, as Hoagland reminds me.
``Our overriding focus,'' he says, ``is to keep the building from
being knocked over by a bulldozer.''