IBM in San Jose

IBM came to San Jose in 1943 to establish its west coast operations and began printing punch cards for their computers near to where so much technology was being utilized. The first site was relatively close to San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose and the building they moved into still stands.

The low building in the foreground is the one IBM first rented in San Jose as their west coast headquarters before building out their custom campus in south San Jose.

Soon after, they moved to a large lot of land in south San Jose.

Building 25 Monument in the Lowe’s Parking Lot, south San Jose.

IBM became a part of the fabric of San Jose and the Silicon Valley. Here, among many creations, they invented the disk drive. Yeah, I know the time will come when that too will seem like ancient technology but for now its invention is still amazing to me and it is fascinating that it occured here in San Jose. The first disk drive was called the RAMAC, Random Access Method of Accounting and Control. And that explains why you will find a public park named after a computer system located in south San Jose; RAMAC Park. The park is within what became the second San Jose / West Coast headquarters of IBM. The first headquarters in downtown is where the RAMAC was conceived and work began, the second is where the disk drive was further developed and then greatly advanced.

Building 25 Monument in the Lowe’s Parking Lot, south San Jose.

IBM invented a lot here in San Jose, and one thing was an idea. It was in south San Jose that they created a tech campus, an open university like place with large windows, art, large outdoor sculpture, water and ponds, bridges, and a cafeteria where all could eat right on campus. The place was designed to inspire conversation and to spark innovation throughout. It worked, and served as a model to others that we see in several silicon valley companies.

One of the artists hired during the campus construction and design was a muralist named Lucienne Bloch. She designed a tile motif for many of the buildings with alternating colors that was to reflect the idea of punch cards that had originally brought IBM to California and sparked so much new innovation.

The campus was eventually closed after the disk drive division of IBM was sold to Hitachi in the ’90’s.

Today, the campus is gone and the land has been turned into homes, restaurants, shopping, and RAMAC Park. Not all memory was erased. There is a monument where Building 25 once stood, and the two buildings nearest wear a tiled pattern at their tops, designed to remind us of the important buildings that once stood there housing the minds and muscles of innovation, decorated in the muralist’s work, which was itself a hint at the punch card history that brought IBM to San Jose.

IBM and its innovative California culture is not gone from San Jose, though the prototype campus is gone. If you go for a nice hike in Santa Teresa County Park nearby, you may catch a glimpse of IBM’s Almaden Research facility, one of the few remaining corporate supported facilities for pure research. I think of it as a magical place where brilliant ideas come to life. It is a major contributor to the fact that IBM earns more patents annually than any other institution and has for decades. Work there has even led to a Nobel Prize. There is a lot that can happen when people share ideas and have a place that encourages them to explore and develop their ideas and thinking.