Mountain View Voice

News - May 27, 2011

Google buys former home of the Pacific Press

Historic buildings currently home to Microsoft division

by Daniel DeBolt

Google's newest real estate purchase in Mountain View is not only home to a division of rival Microsoft, it is also one of the most historic sites in the city.

In April, Google purchased a 100-year-old campus along the railroad tracks at Shoreline Boulevard and Villa Street that was home to the Pacific Press from 1904 to 1983. The purchase of the 171,000-square-foot campus is perhaps fitting because the Pacific Press was once a major employer in the city, just as Google is now. The Pacific Press was Mountain View's answer to Palo Alto's new Stanford University, an effort to bring "an institution of fine qualities" to settle in what was then a town of 800 people.

With this purchase, valued at over $63 million, Google now owns or leases 59 properties in Mountain View, according to recent news and 2010 records from the county tax assessor's office. The space is necessary because "2011 will be our biggest hiring year in company history," said Dan Hoffman, real estate director for Google, in a statement. "We're excited to continue growing in Mountain View and strengthening our relationship with the community."

Much of the campus, now called "The Courtyard," continues to house a division of Microsoft, which shocked some city officials. Google has already cornered Microsoft in Mountain View's office park north of Highway 101, purchasing even small properties near Microsoft's North Bayshore campus, including the home of The Pear Theater. Meanwhile Microsoft has considered leaving Mountain View several times, said one city official.

In 2009, previous owner Metzler North America had proposed adding a 90,000-square-foot building and a four-story parking garage to allow Microsoft expansion on the site. City Council members had allowed city staff to begin studying that proposal as part of the city's general plan update. A Google spokesperson said he could not announce whether Google would pursue such plans for expanding the campus. But he could say that Google would use the historic buildings "in a way that doesn't harm the building or alter the building in a way that would take away the historic significance of it." But some changes maybe made to enhance the "campus feel" there.

An important thread in city history

"I love the buildings, and wholeheartedly support their preservation for their unique historical value and beauty," said council member Laura Macias in an email. Metzler's proposal "seemed like a good way to keep the old buildings but add to overall density if really needed."

The current buildings were built in 1907, the 1940s and in 1985, when it was turned into an office campus.

The Pacific Press first built on the site in 1904. Mountain View successfully lured the Pacific Press away from Oakland by donating 5 acres of land. A local bank offered a $50,000 loan with "no strings attached."

The Pacific Press is the publishing arm of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and with as many as 275 employees in the 1970s, the neighborhood west of Shoreline Boulevard became known as "the Adventist side of town."

It wasn't just the free land that was attractive, but to get "back to the land" and "away from the demoralizing influences of these large cities," according to one account.

The operation got off to a rough start. Shortly after opening, the 1906 earthquake reduced much of the new construction to rubble. And while the press was heroically put back into service a few days later to print the church's "Signs of the Times" newspaper, in three months the place would burn down completely in a mysterious fire. The events were seen as a sign from God that the press should focus solely on religious publications.

The Pacific Press' output was astonishing for a non-profit operation, publishing 640,000 pages every hour and turning out 10,000 books a day in 1974, including 11 freight car loads of "The Desire of Ages," a biography of Christ.

The Pacific Press left Mountain View in 1983 for Nampa, Idaho where the cost of living would be more affordable for new employees.

"We can foresee quite a few people retiring in the years to come," said Warren Gough, associate manager of the book department, to a newspaper reporter in 1978. "A lot of the staff is getting older. We're going to have to attract younger people, and the way the housing market's going, it's going to be difficult."

In 2002, the Pacific Press published "Milestones, a History of Mountain View."

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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