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Famed HP garage returning to glory

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Hardware

Ken Hendrickson hoisted the weathered wooden boards Thursday and, one by one, hammered history back into place.

Slowly, the famous Hewlett-Packard garage -- dismantled in the spring for a preservation project -- took shape.

For the past year, HP has been restoring the Palo Alto home that birthed both the company and Silicon Valley's garage start-up culture. While the two-story house is the most labor-intensive portion of the yearlong project, it's the simple 12-by-18-foot garage that is being the most tenderly preserved.

The garage was the reason Bill Hewlett decided to rent the Addison Avenue property in 1938. He needed a spot that he and his friend, David Packard, could transform into a lab and workshop.

The Professorville home was "A-number-1," Hewlett assured Packard in a letter. He paid $45 rent to hold it.
The young engineers divided the garage into two sections: the left side for design and the right for manufacturing. The table saw sat outside.

It was here the duo built their company's first major products: audio-oscillators, which the young inventors famously sold to Disney to use in the production of "Fantasia." Once Hewlett and Packard could afford to hire two employees, the garage became too small, and the company moved to Page Mill Road.

It's that history that draws techcolytes to the garage and won it state landmark status in 1987. It is such a cultural touchstone that in April HP officials decided to hang a blue tarp during the rehabilitation to hide the garage, which was stripped down to its frame.

"We weren't sure how upset people would be to see how struck down it was," said Anna Mancini, HP's archivist.

Carpenters tucked a steel frame alongside the old wood one to strengthen the garage. They poured new concrete footings and trimmed the bottoms of termite-bitten boards. Crews saved what wood they could; 80 percent of the wood must be original for the property to qualify as federally historic, a designation HP hopes to eventually win. Additional boards came from an old barn in Woodside.

On Thursday, the garage began taking shape again. Hendrickson and Jimmy Reyes did it old school, gripping nails in their mouths and hammers in their hands. Nail guns are quicker, Hendrickson said, but human care was needed for each of the 52 Douglas fir boards, which were rough-sawn and weathered by the decades.

Some pieces had shrunk. Some had swelled. Some had done both. Hendrickson marveled that so many pieces had survived the years.

The project is special to him. His father-in-law was HP's first welder, he said. Hendrickson's wife, Paulette, who stops by the site frequently, worked there, too.

Many people with HP ties were sentimental Thursday watching the fabled structure take shape.

"It gives me goose bumps," said Sid Espinosa, HP's manager of public relations.

HP's employees have intently followed the restoration's progress, and the updates have received the second-most hits on the company Web site, officials said, behind only to the company's CEO shuffle earlier this year.

"These are community treasures, especially for the company," Espinosa said. "It embodies our history and our culture."

HP hopes to finish the entire project -- the garage, the house and the shed where Hewlett slept -- this fall.

After the board and batten are in place, crews will install the cedar shingle roof, rehang the doors and add green paint to the trim. Mancini plans to re-create the lab and has been scouring eBay and yard sales for items like oscillators.

"Oops! I need to take more pictures," she said, stopping conversation to again stare at the garage's steady progress. "This is a big day."

By Kim Vo
Mercury News

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