BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
What would happen if somebody bought the house at 367 Addison Ave. in Palo Alto and decided to tear down the outdated garage where Bill Hewlett and David Packard started Hewlett Packard?
Or if Stanford decided to remove the 150-foot diameter radio telescope dish in the hills above Palo Alto?
Another piece if Silicon Valley history is going away — the 60-year-old Ampex sign that can be seen along Highway 101 in Redwood City.
Last week, crews pulled off the white “Ampex” letters on the sign, and the rest of the sign will be dismantled this week.
The legacy of Ampex
At one time, the sign marked the headquarters of Ampex, the company that pioneered the videotape recorder in the late 1950s.
Ampex alums included Larry Ellison, Atari’s Nolan Bushnell and sound pioneer Ray Dolby.
The videotape recorder transformed television. Before it was invented, everything had to be done live or on film. Not long after it was invented, everything on TV was recorded on tape except for sports, the news and live events.
Ampex won an Oscar, several Emmys and a Grammy.
The original videotape machine, the VR-1000, was the size of an industrial kitchen range and the tape was 2 inches wide.
The technology improved, videotape machines became smaller and smaller, and eventually the reel-to-reel tapes were replaced with cassettes. By the mid-1970s, Japanese manufacturers were turning out consumer models that were the size of a couple of shoe boxes. By the early 1980s, seemingly everybody had a VCR in their home.
Company moves, sign stays put
In 2008, Ampex declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was acquired by Delta Information Systems. The company moved to Hayward.
When the company sold off its Redwood City campus, there was a provision in the sale contract that the sign had to stay put.
The property changed hands a couple of times since then. It was the headquarters of Excite At Home in the early 2000s. Now it’s part of Stanford’s growing Redwood City campus, where the adjacent buildings are part of Stanford Health Care’s operation.
Nothing will happen to the HP garage. It’s owned by HP Inc. and has been designated as a U.S. and California historical landmark, meaning the garage can’t be torn down. The Dish, while it’s not on the cutting edge of astronomy, is still being used for academic research. And while all of that metal is ugly, it’s wormed a way into our hearts.
But the Ampex sign isn’t as lucky as the HP garage or The Dish. When Redwood City officials were approving Stanford’s plans for the area along Broadway, the city considered the sign but decided it wasn’t worthy of historic preservation.
New home sought for sign
Stanford spokesman E.J. Miranda said the university is looking for a good home for the sign.
“Stanford has reached out to a variety of local historic societies to see if they had an interest in taking possession of the letters. We also offered the sign to Ampex – who vacated the property years ago. To date, no one has offered to take the sign,” Miranda said in an email to the Post.
Miranda said the size of the letters is a limiting factor in who would be able to take the sign.
He said the sign will be placed in storage. “Our preference is to donate the sign to a historical group or society,” Miranda said. “We are primarily interested in groups that have some affiliation to preserving historic and/or technological elements of the Peninsula.”
It appears Stanford recognizes Ampex’s place in the history of the Valley. While the sign will disappear from view, Miranda said numerous documents, photographs and artifacts from the company are already part of the Special Collections Department of the Stanford Libraries, where they are available for scholarly use by those researching Ampex’s role in the history of technology.
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.