Silicon Valley architecture
Silicon Valley architecture "Qume Building" in San Jose, California

by Lee Foster

The computer revolution affecting all of America has changed the face of San Jose and the Silicon Valley, 50 miles south of San Francisco along the southern edge of San Francisco Bay.

Originally a bucolic ranching region, nurtured by a small pueblo and Spanish mission in the 18th century, the valley developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries as one of the most important fruit-growing areas in America. Prunes, plums, apricots, peaches, and cherries were shipped all over the country from here.

At the end of World War II a new direction emerged: electronics and other high technology industries. San Jose began to grow, until the area is now the 11th largest metropolitan region in the country. The county has one of the highest per capita incomes in the U.S. Computers, computer components, and other high-tech efforts, both civilian and military, are the main manufacturing effort.


You can fly directly into San Jose International Airport or into the San Francisco International Airport, 45 miles to the north. Highway 101 leads into the region from the north and south.


The region was first a rustic outpost, a Spanish mission and pueblo in the 18th century.

Today you can still visit the site of Mission Santa Clara de Asis, on the University of Santa Clara campus (408/554-4023). Based on the Franciscan padres’ own measure of success, Santa Clara exceeded any other mission in California. That mark of success was the number of Indians who were baptized. A total of 8,536 went through the rites here.

San Jose was California’s first official town. In November 1777 the order was given at the presidios, or forts, of Monterey and San Francisco for a march to San Jose. The stated purpose was the founding of a town. Sixty-six soldiers and their families formed the first community. To glimpse their world, stop at the Peralta Adobe, 184 West St. John Street, in San Jose. There you will learn of the life of Luis Maria Peralta, whose wife bore him 17 children. Peralta owned vast holdings in California and became a millionaire in uninflated 1840 dollars.

At the north end of Silicon Valley, at Palo Alto, stands a monument to another prominent Californian who shaped the future of the state–Leland Stanford. The monument is Stanford University, well worth a day of exploring. Stanford’s motive for founding a university, in 1881, was to perpetuate the memory of the family’s only child, Leland Jr., who had died of fever in Florence, Italy at the age of 16. As Stanford put it, “The children of California will be our children.”

Silicon Valley architecture 'Qume Building' in San Jose, California
Silicon Valley architecture “Qume Building” in San Jose, California

Little did Stanford, the railroad builder and Governor, dream that one day the technical departments in the University would nurture an entirely new industry. Graduates with names like Hewlett and Packard led these developments.


The high-tech corporations of Silicon Valley are so secretive that tours are impossible. But you can do a drive-by tour of the corporate palace headquarters of several companies. These structures will emerge as a distinctive regional architecture.

The buildings put you in the technical and geographic heart of Silicon Valley. See first the Digital Equipment Building (2525 Augustine Drive, Santa Clara). This shimmering black cube of a building, as mathematically elegant as the computer products the company makes, sits on a wide green plane of lawn, much like a jeweler’s gem on a green cloth.

Other structures worth seeing are the pie-shaped Dysan Building (Patrick Henry Drive and Bunker Hill in Santa Clara) and the bold, colorful Qume headquarters (2350 Qume Drive in Santa Clara). Get inside the Qume building, if the guards will allow you, to peruse its garden-like interior.

If you want to rub elbows with the electronics wizards making their deals over lunch, stop in at The Lion and Compass Restaurant, 1023 North Fair Oaks, in Sunnyvale. Nolan Bushnell, the video game inventor and founder of Atari, started this restaurant in his spare time.

One interesting high-tech tour of Silicon Valley is possible. That tour is at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View (415/604-5000). On the tour of this 430-acre research facility you’ll learn what NASA is now doing. You’ll visit a wind tunnel where experimental aircraft are studied. Other stops on the tour include a centrifuge, a flight-simulation facility studying pilot error, and a hangar housing experimental aircraft.

The NASA facility is at Moffett Field, where you’ll see immense hangars as long as football fields. These hangars were for dirigibles, those lighter than air craft that enjoyed a brief popularity in the 1930s. The largest hangar was built in 1933 to house the USS Macon, fully 785 feet long. Five Sparrow Hawk fighter planes could be launched from the belly of the dirigible. Unfortunately, the Macon went down in a storm off the California coast near Big Sur. Its sister ship on the east coast suffered the same fate off New Jersey. These disasters closed the brief aviation chapter on dirigibles.

Another interesting perspective on the region can be gleaned with a stop at the Intel Museum (408/765-0503), 2200 Mission College Boulevard, in Santa Clara. The Intel Museum shows the technology development within the computer chip since the 1960s, portraying an only-yesterday wonder at the developments that Intel has pioneered.

Not all the passions of the Silicon Valley amount to discussions of ram and rom, however. Other debates center on the pleasures of Cabernet or Riesling. The more than 50 Santa Clara-based wineries with extensive plantings to the south in Monterey County include some of California’s premier wine producers.

Within the San Jose area, one tasting-touring stop can be highly recommended.

On the east side of the valley is the Mirassou Vineyards (3000 Aborn Road, 408/274-4000). The Mirassous go back five generations to the 1850s. They were pioneers in developing the new grape fields in Monterey, to the south, but they kept their ancestral hearth and winery headquarters in San Jose. They run a hospitable tasting room and serve quality wines.

If you want to leave the valley floor and climb into the foothills for a hike, try Los Trancos Park with its earthquake walk. This lovely walk amidst rolling grasslands and oak trees, a typical California landscape, acquaints you with the infamous San Andreas Fault, which rumbles occasionally underneath. A self-guided tour pamphlet describes in detail the geology of the fault. Ominous warnings, however, are little heeded by valley residents, as they raise a glass of Chardonnay to a high-tech future. For info on Los Trancos, call 415/691-1200.


For nearby trips see the sections on Santa Cruz and on San Mateo County.



Much information for the traveler is available from the San Jose Convention & Visitors Bureau, 333 West San Carlos Street, Suite 1000, San Jose, CA 95110-2720, 408/295-9600 or 888/726-5673, web site San Jose’s 24-hour For Your Information hotline is 408/295-2265.

There is a San Jose Visitor Information Center located on the lower level of the San Jose McEnry Convention Center, 150 West San Carlos Street, 408/977-0900.



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