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Thread: Bell Labs to be Demolished

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    Default Bell Labs to be Demolished

    June 14, 2006


    Square Feet

    Pastoral Site of Historic Inventions Faces the End



    By ANTOINETTE MARTIN

    Correction Appended

    HOLMDEL, N.J., June 7 — For 44 years, a six-story, two-million-square-foot structure nestled here in a 472-acre exquisitely pastoral setting was a habitat for technological ferment.

    The vaunted Bell Labs, whose scientists invented the laser and developed fiber optic and satellite communications, touch-tone dialing and cellphones, modems and microwaves, was housed in the glass building, set far off the road, providing the community with some luster — not to mention a tax bonanza.

    These days, the building's lobby, with its magnificent glass ceiling, is off limits to all but those having formal appointments with Lucent Technologies, which disassembled and dispersed much of Bell Labs after the collapse of the technology market in 2000.

    Few outsiders have viewed its breathtaking scale or walked along the perimeters to admire displays of technological breakthroughs like a 1929 movie camera or an early office switchboard straight out of "Bells Are Ringing."

    But now, the building has been sold, and the public will be invited in for at least one date while it remains, which may not be much longer. The developer who will create a future for the property says the structure will have to be demolished.

    Preferred Real Estate Investments, a company based in Conshohocken, Pa., will maintain the site as office space and will keep the property as pastoral as possible, said its chief executive, Michael G. O'Neill. But Mr. O'Neill said his firm, which specializes in the reuse of outmoded commercial buildings, simply could not find a way to renovate this structure.

    The soaring lobby is surrounded on three sides by stacks of windowless concrete-walled cubicles — perfect for scientists, but unappealing to office workers of any other type — he noted.

    "So many of these lavish old commercial buildings have a great history to them, and then one day their useful life is over," Mr. O'Neill said a bit wistfully.

    When Lucent found itself needing to downsize and leave a special building behind, it was following in the footsteps of another New Jersey telecommunications giant, AT&T, which moved out of its opulent 2.7-million-square-foot headquarters in Bedminster in 2001. The AT&T building stood empty for four years — considered nearly unmarketable by some commercial brokers. It did find a buyer last year in Verizon, which has begun renovations aimed at carving up its gargantuan spaces and stripping away some of the luxuries, like the waterfall in the cafeteria.

    At one time, Lucent employed 5,600 people in Holmdel. The company plans to move the approximately 1,000 who remain to offices in Murray Hill and Whippany by the summer of 2007.

    Right now, Mr. O'Neill said his primary focus was on providing reassurance to the citizenry of Holmdel that not much has to change in terms of the Lucent property's historic impact on the town.

    Bell Labs has been a cash cow in a picturesque setting — paying $3.19 million in property taxes last year, while putting little strain on town services. Holmdel's mayor, Serena DiMaso, and other town officials have been adamant that a housing development, which might require additional traffic control, new infrastructure and school spending, would not be a suitable replacement.

    "I think there were about 20 other developers competing against us to buy the property," Mr. O'Neill said, "and everybody we competed with wanted to put 500 to 600 houses here, and turn this into a big subdivision, but that is not our intent.

    "Can you imagine? This incredible, expansive space — cutting it up, and covering it over with yet another cookie-cutter community of McMansions?"

    Mr. O'Neill, whose company recently converted a pre-World War I toilet factory in Hamilton, N.J., into plush office space, said plans for the Lucent site were in very early stages. It is expected, he said, that a public meeting about the property will be held inside the Bell Labs structure during the last week of this month.

    On a walking tour of the property, Mr. O'Neill said he currently envisioned three smaller headquarters-type buildings in place of the one big lab structure, providing somewhat less total space than the Bell Labs building. "The size would be in keeping with the more modest size of today's typical company headquarters, or data processing centers," he said.

    Final plans will not be drawn until companies commit to moving to the site, Mr. O'Neill said.

    The huge oval road around the building, the long approach from Crawford's Corner Road and even the weirdly shaped water tower at the entrance — said by locals to resemble a transistor — will most likely remain, though, Mr. O'Neill asserted. "We want to keep the country-road feel," he said.

    Diving enthusiastically through thick shrubbery, Mr. O'Neill made his way to a lovely pond set behind Bell Labs, surrounded by plantings and weeping willows and adjacent to a large terrace off the company cafeteria.

    "This is such a special place for a company to offer its workers," he said. "There is hardly anything like this available anywhere any more. We believe people will be beating down the doors to move their businesses here."

    Founded in 1992, Preferred owns numerous properties east of the Mississippi, worth a total of more than $1.5 billion, that were once central to communities but are now vacant or heading that way, according to Mr. O'Neill.

    At the former American Standard plant in Hamilton, for instance, the company pledged to tastefully renovate the empty toilet factory and fill it with high-quality tenants, and it kept its promises, said the mayor, Glen Gilmore. Last month, with that job complete, Preferred sold the property, now called American Metro Center, to two other large real estate companies.

    Mr. O'Neill said he had no idea whether his company would be the long-term owner in Holmdel. "Please!" he said, laughing and throwing up his hands. "We've got a lot of work to do here and now."

    Correction: June 17, 2006

    An article in the Square Feet pages of Business Day on Wednesday about the sale of the Bell Labs building in Holmdel, N.J., misidentified the New Jersey coummunity where AT&T once had its headquarters. It was Basking Ridge, not Bedminster.


    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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    The Dude Abides
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    I've seen this day coming for several years now. Lucent had several campuses all over town not too long ago, but most of them just sit vacant now. It's very disappointing, especially considering that this isn't even a result of the traditional outsourcing leading to the demise of local jobs. I'm surprised they're moving the remaining 1,000 employees away. So much for company loyalty.

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    Build the Tower Verre antinimby's Avatar
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    Hey look piano! That story came from your town.

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    An Inventive Solution to Save Home of Bell Labs

    By ANTOINETTE MARTIN

    Published: September 20, 2006

    As soon as word got out in June that the 44-year-old building in Holmdel, N.J., that was home to Bell Labs would be demolished, scientists around the country — and the world — set the Internet humming with anguished reaction.

    “Say it isn’t so!” read a typical entry on the technology Web site called Engadget. “The Holmdel facility is the birthplace of the cellphone. It was home to the work of several Nobel laureates and was the birthplace of the most important communications technologies in history!”

    Hundreds of scientists from universities around the world have gone online in the last few months to publish reminiscences about what it had been like to work in the huge modernistic building designed by the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, who also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Some said they felt like soldiers on the Starship Enterprise from “Star Trek” when entering the mirrored-glass structure and heading past checkpoints into the cavernous atrium lobby with its fluorescent-lighted mezzanine floors.

    Quickly, the buzz online turned to thoughts on how to save the legendary building — or at least part of it.

    “We got more than 300 e-mails,” said Michael G. O’Neill, chief executive of Preferred Real Estate Investments, a company based in Conshohocken, Pa., that has contracted to buy the mostly vacant property from Lucent Technologies, which was created a decade ago in a spinoff from AT&T.

    Late in the spring, Mr. O’Neill’s company announced that it would try to preserve the scale and layout of the 472-acre Lucent property. But the company said it could not find a way to convert the Bell Labs building, which is about 1.9 million square feet, into a modern corporate office and would have to take it down.

    “Some people gave the building its due as a piece of history, but said it’s a dinosaur and it ought to come down,” Mr. O’Neill recounted. His company’s experts had reached the same conclusion, he said.

    “A huge number of e-mailers, though, suggested ideas for saving at least a part of the building,” Mr. O’Neill said. “It was like our conference room got beamed out onto the Internet, and experts gathered from around the world and came up with ideas.”

    Now, Preferred has come up with a plan to peel back some of the more recent additions to the building, which pioneered the mirrored-glass facade and has a water tower shaped like a transistor, and preserve the original Phase 1 of the Saarinen structure, which is about 500,000 square feet. The vaulted atrium lobby and the glass exterior would be saved — although the glass itself would have to be replaced with modern thermal panels.

    This new plan has been greeted joyfully by most local officials and by 50 members of the National Academy of Sciences, who in July wrote to Mr. O’Neill, Gov. Jon S. Corzine and Mayor Serena DiMaso of Holmdel to plead for preservation of “part of the science heritage of all mankind.”

    Many of the signers of that letter once worked in the unparalleled lab that was created by American Telephone and Telegraph. They included Arno A. Penzias and Robert W. Wilson, winners of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1978 for their work that helped to lead to the development of the “Big Bang” theory of the origins of the universe.

    The young geniuses who toiled at Bell Labs have long since scattered. Calvin F. Quate, inventor of the atomic microscope, has taught at Stanford for the last 45 years; Robert C. Dynes is now president of the University of California; and S. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, one of Bell’s most renowned female scientists, is a professor at Oxford.

    Modern technology keeps them in close touch, however, as Mr. O’Neill said he was overwhelmed to learn. “All these major figures, brilliant experts, coming together to contact us about saving a piece of history,” Mr. O’Neill said. “It was very moving, and we took it seriously.”

    Preferred decided to preserve the original rectangular structure by Saarinen and strip away additions that had produced a cruciform shape. The company contacted the successor of Saarinen’s architecture firm to obtain the original plans.

    It also worked with a local group in Holmdel, the Citizens for Informed Land Use, which had endorsed its original plan to keep the landscape of the Lucent property and build no more than three new office structures, along with limited housing on the outskirts. The citizens group had suggestions for integrating some environmental features into the plan to save Phase 1, Mr. O’Neill said.

    Two back sections of the existing building would be demolished under the new plan, which was shown informally to local authorities last month. The ground floors of the sections, however, would be retained to become part of an underground parking area with a parklike plaza on top.

    The plaza would be flanked by two new buildings, to be situated at either end of the original structure and slightly behind it so as not to disrupt the front view from the entry road.

    “That creates the possibility for a single tenant to occupy a campuslike setting,” Mr. O’Neill said, “or three different headquarters buildings.”

    The original building and two new ones will total 1.5 million square feet of office space and will encircle an existing pond behind the current building, according to preliminary drawings submitted to the town. None of the new construction would reach much beyond the huge oval driveway off Route 1 on the property’s pastoral acreage, which includes some working farmland.

    Meanwhile, Preferred also announced that it would be hedging its bets on developing the site by adding some housing, specifically for people age 55 and over, along the periphery, probably 300 to 350 stand-alone units.

    Holmdel residents have generally opposed any housing on the site, but so far no major opposition has arisen to the latest proposal.

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Bell Labs (detail), Holmdel, New Jersey.
    Eero Saarinen and Associates.
    design 1956, completion 1962, addition 1967


    [credit : Yukio Futagawa in Rupert Spade, Eero Saarinen
    (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971) fig.36]


    The Bell Labs building in Holmdel, New Jersey,
    designed by noted Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, one sunny morning.




    The entrance to Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey.
    This huge replica of a transistor greets all comers.
    A Pentium filled with transistors this size would probably be the size of North America.


    Copyright © 2003, Ralph Brandi. All rights reserved.
    All photographs taken during November, 2003, with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel

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    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    From the NY Times article ...

    An Inventive Solution to Save Home of Bell Labs

    The Bell Labs building by Eero Saarinen, with its mirrored-glass exterior and atrium lobby,
    will be spared from demolition:


    Dith Pran/The New York Times


    The Bell Labs building by Eero Saarinen:


    Dith Pran/The New York Times



    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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    While its nice they may save some of the buildings the saddest thing about all of this for me is how quickly a place of such creative and technological might could become nothing.

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