“Silicon Valley” was not always just a name for the computer-technology industry. Today, the phrase mostly conjures up a catalog of corporate successes: Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Facebook, Google, Apple, Uber, and all the start-ups aspiring to similar wealth and glory.
But Silicon Valley is also a real geographic place, with a real history, where real people live and work—and not just in tech, but also in its shadow.
That place can be difficult to describe to folks outside the Bay Area, because as far as places go, Silicon Valley is a pretty banal one. Seen by car (the dominant local mode of transportation), the two counties and dozen or so cities and towns that comprise the region blend into a single, seamless expanse of suburbs, strip malls, and tilt-up concrete office buildings. Starchitect-designed tech campuses have only recently begun to punctuate that monotony. The scarcity of architectural monuments and disorienting car culture make defining the heart of the area challenging. Writing for The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal once fixed the “center” of Silicon Valley at a storage unit in Sunnyvale.
Amidst that scene, many cities in Silicon Valley have tried to claim the mantle of the region’s epicenter. Palo Alto has the strongest historical title as home to the Stanford Research Park, which lured engineering firms to the region beginning in 1951. It’s also the site of two landmarks of high-tech industry—the garage where Hewlett-Packard began its business, and the office where Fairchild Semiconductor perfected the integrated circuit. Mountain View also makes a strong case. It is home to the decommissioned Moffett Field Naval Air Station, where the defense industry took an early foothold in the region; today it hosts the Googleplex.