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San Jose Mercury News Mike Cassidy column
[April 12, 2013]

San Jose Mercury News Mike Cassidy column

Apr 12, 2013 (San Jose Mercury News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The one thing that the imminent demise of the historic Shockley labs building in Mountain View shows is that history is not dead in Silicon Valley.

When I wrote recently about a developer's plan to tear the building down -- and to also in some way honor the spot where it stood -- I wondered whether any of you had ideas about how the history that was made in the building should be marked.

The old lab at 391 San Antonio Road, after all, is rightfully known as the birthplace of Silicon Valley. It was where silicon as a semiconductor was first introduced to a valley that has adopted the element as a moniker. It was where Nobel laureate William Shockley assembled eight brilliant scientists and then drove them crazy with his paranoia and stubbornness. The men, including Intel (INTC) founders Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, fled to start Fairchild Semiconductor and became forever known as the Traitorous Eight.

The truth is that preserving the building isn't all that practical. It's a squat, old, one-story wreck that has been transformed many times, morphing from fruit drying shed, to laboratory, to stereo store, to office furniture store, to grocery. Representatives of developer Merlone Geier Partners have said they plan to install a memorial on the site honoring the history that happened there.

They are working with historians, artists and former Shockley employees to come up with a design, which is good news.

I thought it would be fun, and maybe inspiring, to see what other ideas readers had for the site. Admittedly, I asked for your thoughts with some trepidation. After all, when the Mountain View Voice posted a story about the big Village at San Antonio Center development going up near San Antonio Road and El Camino Real, few if any of the many reader comments expressed regret over the demolition of the historic building.

But you didn't disappoint. You clearly care. One graphic design agency volunteered free help with the design. Former employees recounted their roles in history. And a number of thoughtful ideas found their way to my inbox and my Twitter feed.

Twitter follower Dennis Shiao, a San Mateo product marketing guy, had a high-tech solution. "How about an augmented-reality app," he tweeted. Then he followed with: "The app is the virtual exhibit. As you walk the grounds, it shows the view of the lab from where you're standing." I like it. And just think what the virtual tour would be like once Google (GOOG) Glass hits the street.

Several readers reminded me of projects in which the old had been melded with the new: the KB Homes townhouse and condo development in Midtown San Jose, which preserved walls, supports and a water tower from the Del Monte cannery; the shopping center at DeAnza Boulevard and Bollinger Road in San Jose that incorporated parts of the old Bonsai Nursery into its construction; and The Plant shopping center in San Jose, which preserved a distinctive General Electric building that could have been sacrificed to progress.

My Shockley idea was a melding job. I suggested refurbishing the facade of the old building and incorporating it into the entrance of the office complex that is planned for the spot. Valley historian David Laws thought restoring the facade was OK, but how about restoring it to its 1960s look with the lab's front windows providing a view "into a diorama-style recreation of the lab " Robert Blair, of San Jose, says he likes the idea of saving the facade, too, if it can be saved. But he'd rather see it standing about three miles away at the Computer History Museum, "as the entry door to the existing semiconductor exhibits there." No question it would be a nice touch -- walking through the doors of Shockley labs and into the history of the semiconductor industry.

A number of other readers appeared ready to embrace Merlone Geier's monument or memorial idea. Laurance Shinderman, of San Jose, invoked the giant sculpture of a sewing needle and button marking New York City's garment district. "I'm sure we have some clever artist who could develop a semiconductor representation and integrated circuit that would be an iconic piece of art that would be of more interest than a building," Shinderman says. "Yes, the place should be honored, but the story is well-told just a few miles away at the Computer History Museum." And Larry Crooks, of Richmond, has a vision that includes an art piece that would incorporate a silicon wafer complete with a black and white depiction of the original Shockley building. He's even proposed a method to do it, which involves aluminum conductors and varying the aluminum coverage. (See me after class.) Not a bad suggestion. In fact, how do you resist a chip illustrating the old block Contact Mike Cassidy at or 408-920-5536. Follow him at

SHOCKLEY LABS CITY COUNCIL MEETING The Mountain View City Council will hold a public study session on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., during which council members will discuss the phase of the Village at San Antonio Center project that includes the Shockley labs building.

___ (c)2013 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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