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Gleaming the Cube

Where the heck do business parks come from, anyway?

By Kelly Luker

THE STREET SIGN says "Caribbean," but turquoise waters are nowhere to be found. The next sign is labeled "Bordeaux," but vineyards are also in short supply.

In fact, the only thing resembling water and vines near these exotically named street locales is a dirty slough dribbling through a thicket of brambles. Welcome to another Silicon Valley business park, where theme is oddly discordant with reality.

This particular cube-farm is located in Sunnyvale, within breathing distance of the jet exhaust fumes from Moffett Field. If it has a name, the workers indentured there don't know what it is. Like its dozens of identical siblings scattered throughout the valley, this business park is informally referred to in terms of a more famous neighbor; in this case earning the "Moffett Park" moniker.

If Moffett Park was peeled up off the ground like a stamp and exchanged with the "Bay 101" park, or the "near Hobee's in Cupertino" park, no one would be the wiser. Somewhere lurks a giant cookie-cutter--or business park-cutter--that replicates the wholesome recipe of squat buildings, drought-tolerant trees and trapezoidal patches of grass found throughout the South Bay, the peninsula and perhaps Fresno, too, for that matter.

Trying to find out who's behind the Moffett parcel proves to be slightly harder than trying to find out who built France. Perhaps it is a closely guarded secret, since so few real estate developers will return my call.

Finally, a random walk through the Yellow Pages turns up pay dirt to my queries about where business parks come from.

"First, God makes the rocks," explains Cabot Templeton, in a voice normally reserved for children and village idiots. Templeton is one of the principals in Bristol Commercial Brokerage and says he's been in the development/real estate/parcel-pushing business his "whole life."

Leaving behind visions of a toddler-age Templeton wheeling and dealing, I ask him to continue with his explanation of how business parks are born.

Thoughtfully, Templeton picks up the pace and skips from the Mesozoic Age to 20 years ago. Although high-tech industry has been around the valley for a long, long time, it was only the last couple of decades that fueled the need for lots of hives for the worker bees. In addition, manufacturing was moving out, creating less need for industrial space and more demand for office space. Farmland was still available, so developers enjoyed the luxury of spreading out, not up.

"It was economical to build one story," Templeton explains of those long-ago days of the '80s. "Now it's not."

Templeton blames others for business park homogeneity.

"City codes," says Templeton. It is the city fathers and mothers who decide the setback (distance between the building and road), the names of the streets, the amount of concrete versus green--at least in Sunnyvale.

Some regions allow developers to memorialize the names of their grandkids, damning the rest of us to drive on streets named Britney Way and Chad Lane. But someone in Sunnyvale came up with a list of approved names more than 40 years ago. City of Sunnyvale planning officer Trudy Ryan isn't sure who that might have been, but it is him or her we can thank for Caribbean and Bordeaux. Ryan explains that all streets running east/west are named after bodies of water, while north/south boulevards carry names from Europe.

Templeton also discloses that the Moffett Park does indeed have an official name--Moffett Business Park--and it's a name well known among those in his business. Templeton helps keep hives like Moffett buzzing with successful leasees. He adds that the "Bay 101" business park also has an official name--Orchard Business Park. At some point before the asphalt and industrial carpet were laid down, fruit trees once flourished there.

Who cares if places like Moffett Business Park are the architectural equivalent of the Stepford Wives? They're the wave of the future, shrugs Templeton. When the subject of Santa Cruz comes up, the knowledgeable developer chuckles.

"You saw Moffett Park?" he asks rhetorically. "That's what all of Santa Cruz will look like in 20 years."

And, according to Templeton, it will continue to look that way for another few millennia because of concrete's amazing endurance.

"If humankind were to be wiped out," says Templeton, "[these buildings] will last forever." He admits pondering what future archeologists will make of our society as they dig around the ancient business parks.

Templeton doesn't have an answer. Yet.

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From the September 14-20, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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