By this point the news has been widely reported: The City of Los Altos is looking into designating Steve Jobs’s childhood home there as a historical resource. It’s the home where he and Steve Wozniak built the first Apple computers, so its association with a significant person and achievement there makes it historic, preservationists argue.
But the generic-looking ranch house at 2066 Crist Drive is not architecturally interesting. Another house Jobs lived in as a child is: The Mackay-developed “likeler” on Diablo Avenue in Mountain View was built from designs by Eichler architects Anshen and Allen. As the Eichler Network first reported, the home isn’t actually an Eichler (contrary to what Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson), but it looks very similar.
And while Jobs, who lived in the Mountain View home from 1959 until 1967, was not yet building actual computers during that span, he cited the structure as one of the earliest and most direct influences on his sense of aesthetics and industrial design. From Steve Jobs:
Eichler did a great thing, Jobs said on one of our walks around the neighborhood. “His houses were smart and cheap and good. They brought clean design and simple taste to lower-income people. They had awesome little features, like radiant heating in the floors. You put carpet on them, and we had nice toasty floors when we were kids.”
Jobs said that his appreciation for Eichler homes instilled in him a passion for making nicely designed products for the mass market. “I love it when you can bring really great design and simple capability to something that doesn’t cost much,” he said as he pointed out the clean elegance of the houses. “It was the original vision for apple. That’s what we tried to do with the first Mac. That’s what we did with the iPod."
Clearly, then, this architecture is significant to the development of Apple Computers, whether Jobs had the developer’s name right or not. So my question is, ought the Mountain View house be considered a historic resource as well?
Nobody has filed with the city to start the process to designate the house as historic, Mountain View planner Lindsay Hagan told me. And the Mountain View Historical Association, which would be the most likely group to do so, hadn’t considered it, president Pat Figueroa said. “I hadn't heard the reference that the Eichler aesthetics influenced his way of thinking.” But when I told her about the references in the biography, Figueroa said she would start raising the issue with her colleagues. So far, though, there’s no organized movement that I know of to officially mark Jobs’s Mountain View house as historically significant.
Mountain View’s planning code requires a building meet one or more of the following criteria to qualify as a historic resource:
a. Is strongly identified with a person who, or an organization which, significantly contributed to the culture, history or development of the City of Mountain View;
b. Is the site of a significant historic event in the city's past;
c. Embodies distinctive characteristics significant to the city in terms of a type, period, region or method of construction or representative of the work of a master or possession of high artistic value; or
d. Has yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important to the city's prehistory or history.
If Jobs’s house meets any of those, it’s most likely 'C,' with good dose of 'A' mixed in. Designating the house as a historic resource (a city designation, as opposed to a state landmark such as the HP garage in Palo Alto) would give the property owner some tax benefits and other financial incentives. But it would also require a more stringent permitting process if the owner wanted to make any changes to the property.
In Los Altos, the research to confirm that Jobs and Wozniak actually built their first Apples in the Crist Drive home took the volunteer Historical Commission a long time, city planner Zachary Dahl told me. Had it not been the birthplace of Apple Computers, there likely wouldn’t have been enough to designate it as historic, despite its famous former occupant. “The association to Steve Jobs is a significant element, but on its own wouldn't be enough to merit the designation. The significance here is that it's the birthplace of the Apple Computer company, and where the first Apple computers were assembled.”
The Mountain View house lacks that kind of momentous event in its history, but depending on how important you think Apple’s design is to the significance of the company overall, one could probably make the case that it’s worth designating because of its aesthetic influence.
Meanwhile, interestingly enough, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak did grow up in an actual Eichler. And he built a computer in it. “I had built a computer, very similar to the early hobby computers preceding the Apple I design, in about 1970, while living in the Eichler. It was called the crème soda computer, and a newspaper reporter even came to the home to write a story about it,” he told the Eichler Network back in 2001. But while Wozniak calls the Eichler “my favorite home ever,” he declined to credit the house’s design as an influence on his later work with Apple.
So if any mid-century modern home is going to get historical status in relation to Apple Computers, it will be Jobs’s one-time home in Mountain View. But so far, that idea is still very abstract.