Growing up in Silicon Valley, I never gave much thought to the region’s past beyond that it was agricultural area prior to becoming the center of the tech sector. The Joshua Hendy Iron Works is a window the industrial portion of the region’s history. The Iron Works built heavy mining equipment and steam engines for ships in addition to almost anything that could be crafted out of iron. It was originally located in San Francisco but was heavy damaged by the fire following the 1906 earthquake. The City of Sunnyvale offered free land and the Iron Works relocated to Sunnyvale.
I got interested in the Iron Works because of another image I wanted to create and still haven’t gotten right yet. That image is of a large exhaust fan at the top of a warehouse. The warehouse is visible from South Sunnyvale Avenue which I drive on fairly frequently. On one afternoon, I tried to get a picture through the fence which resulted in a security guard racing over a golf cart and yelling at me. Since I was standing on a public sidewalk, I knew I was in the clear legally. Unfortunately, that vantage point didn’t work for the image I wanted to create. The whole experience made me wonder why there’s such high security for an old warehouse.
Today, Northrop Grumman Marine Systems owns the site and uses it make turbine generator sets and propulsion units for nuclear attack submarines. Work on nuclear submarines no doubt includes classified information which explains the overzealous security.
For modern Silicon Valley, even the current Northrop Grumman facility feels like a throw back. The property is 32 acres of prime real estate that would be worth a fortune as town houses. Even more than the property value, building large industrial items out of metal feels at odds with the miniaturized computer and networking hardware and the etherial software Silicon Valley produces today. The building pictured above feels historic and is part of the original IronWorks. The rest of the facility was built post-WWII and feels industrial. The historic building is now a museum that’s hardly ever open. Visiting the museum is on my to-do list as I want to get a better feel for the Iron Works back in its heyday when Sunnyvale was mostly agricultural.
A couple of resources to learn more about Iron Works.