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Historic IBM Building 25

A proposed project for a 129,000 square-foot Lowes Home Improvement Warehouse on IBM's Cottle Road campus would demolish historic IBM Building 25.  A symbol of Silicon Valley innovation, Building 25 is significant to San Jose as a forerunner of high technology campuses to come. “It is one of the finest examples of Modern Industrial architecture in Santa Clara County,” states a report reviewed by the Historic Landmarks Commission.

According to the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the project, the building "has been determined to qualify as a Candidate City Landmark under the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance, and has been determined eligible for listing on the state and national registers." It also states that demolition of Building 25 would create significant impacts to historic resources.

As explained in the FEIR: "The design was a radical departure from the solid wall construction of most industrial and laboratory facilities of the time. It was designed so that each office and laboratory had walls of glass to integrate the landscaping and outdoor art with the working spaces. Building 025 is where historically significant research occurred, including work associated with development of the flying head disk drive, which is considered one of the most significant inventions in information storage technology."

The City of San Jose's Historic Landmark Commission is championing reuse of the building as an alternative to demolition. HLC Vice-Chair Steve Polcyn suggests that Building 25 be integrated into the overall design of the project, saying, "Both this Building 25 and a new, single story, warehouse type building, similar to what has been proposed, can coexist on this site. Building 25 should be considered an extension of the Lowe's Home Improvement Center (specifically, the garden center and areas for 'do-it-yourself' seminars) along with retail and restaurant functions."

When IBM erected the Advanced Research Building 25 at its Cottle Road campus in 1957, the building was a symbol of Silicon Valley innovation. Today it might seem common fare for high-tech companies, but the one-story building with its floor-to-ceiling windows and symmetry was a notable shift from the industrial design of its day.

Designed by John Savage Bolles of Berkeley, California, the now empty building was developed to house IBM’s top data-storage researchers, who made history with the advent of the flying head disc drive. The data technology allowed online transaction processing, which companies such as American Airlines used to create real-time reservations systems.

Bolles accented the campus with natural light, courtyards, oak and redwood trees, tiled facades and a modern art collection, including “Research” a sculpture by Gurdon Woods. The goal was to make the IBM Building 25 comfortable for employees—a novel idea at that time. As a result, Factory-Maintenance and Management named the building “Plant of the Year” in 1958 out of 900 sites.

Building 25 Main Entrance

IBM Building 25 was just one of Bolles’ award-winning designs. His projects included San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, Johnson & Johnson in Menlo Park and Paul Masson’s Champagne Cellars in Saratoga. He also taught seminars at Harvard and was made a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects before his death in 1983.

“It is one of the finest examples of Modern Industrial architecture in Santa Clara County,” states the report under review by the Historic Landmarks Commission. “The Advanced Research Building 25 meets the criteria for integrity as defined by the National Register of Historic Places…as defined by seven aspects: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association. [The building] is significant to the architectural heritage and industrial history of San Jose.”

Front façade of Building 25. The bold geometric artistic pattern is interestingly reminiscent of early IBM tabulating punch cards,” states the historical report.

Preservation Options

IBM Building 25 has been closed since 1995. Ways to preserve the site, which was visited by Nikita Khrushchev during the Cold War, are being considered. The historical report recommends that: “preservation and reuse of the architecturally significant building should be considered.” At the very least, the report calls on San Jose to retain and relocate the Gurdon sculpture, document the building’s history and characteristics should demolition be approved, and that the building’s historical information be incorporated into the future development.

Historic Landmarks Commissioner Justine Leong had her own ideas during the commission’s June 4 meeting. Leong suggested that it would have been great to have dot-com company use it as office space. It was unfortunate, she added, that the building was not marketed until two years ago when the economy was failing. She stated that it could be a classic Eichler-esque office building, whereas current offices are often sterile.

PAC*SJ for one would like to see the building preserved and to foster more discussions of its possible use. “This building and campus would start the west coast trend away from the single manufacturing facility and set the standard for a bucolic setting that high technology campuses would follow,” says PAC*SJ’s former executive director, Kate Boruff. “The design was a radical departure from the solid wall construction of the past.”

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