The lowdown on Steve Jobs’ future Woodside home

OK, so for about two whole weeks, the WWWW (Whole World Wide Web) has been a-buzzing about the supposedly exclusive plans that Gizmodo unveiled of Steve’s future home in Woodside. Now that the story is a little more behind us, I thought I’d recap and use the occasion to come back on the whole Woodside affair, that’s been going on for years.

1. Context

As most of you know, Steve has owned a mansion in Woodside since 1984. He bought it with the money he made at Apple after the company’s IPO in 1980. The mansion — 14,540 sq.— was built in the 1920s by a copper magnate, Daniel Jackling, hence its nickname “the Jackling house”. It is located in the exclusive neighborhood of Woodside, not too far from Larry Ellison’s Japanese estate. Steve lived in it when he was a bachelor, roughly from 1984 to the early or mid-1990s (shortly after his marriage with Laurene). You can see pictures of Steve inside his mansion on all about Steve Jobs (I chose one of my favorites here).

Steve in Woodside in 1985

Steve in Woodside in September 1985, the day he announced he was quitting Apple.Note the mansion on the right, which looks really nice.

One thing you will note is that most of the rooms are devoid of furniture. As a matter of fact, the only room that was fully furbished inside the mansion was the kitchen — not that Steve was a great cook, he hired a couple who cooked for him.

Understandably, Laurene refused to live in this empty mansion, and had Steve and their new family move to a less reclusive — and slightly more furnished — house in Palo Alto. The Woodside mansion has been abandoned since then. For a long time, Steve has had plans to tear it down and replace it by a perfect home that he designed for his family (unlike their Palo Alto house, which they bought). It is famed that in the late 1990s, he had plans by I.M. Pei for this new home, but they never went further than a scale model. Pei has also worked with Steve on the refurbishment of his New York apartment in the San Remo towers, in which he never lived either. It’s now the home of U2 singer Bono.

There are two reasons this dream house was never built. One, Steve is a perfectionist, and was never satisfied enough by what the architects had to propose him. It’s the same reason he lived with a mattress, Ansel Adams prints and a stereo system as his only pieces of furniture for so long — he could never decide on what to buy. The second reason though is an even more decisive one: Steve was simply never allowed to tear down his house. Not that he didn’t try.

2. The Jackling mansion affair

Billiard room in the abandoned Woodside mansion

Billiard room in the abandoned Woodside mansion

Let’s come back briefly on the legal imbriglio surrounding the destruction of the Jackling mansion:

  • in 2004, Steve gets the permission to tear down his house from the city of Woodside
  • the destruction is blocked by a trial, which ends in January 2006 with the victory of “Uphold Our Heritage”. This local group of conservationists argued it was a piece of history which could not be destroyed. Steve Jobs appealed to the decision.
  • in January 2007, he lost the appeal.
  • in 2008, he applied for a new demolition permit. He associated this new demand with a pledge from another millionaire willing to move the mansion brick by brick to a new location.
  • in May 2009, the demolition permit was granted by city council. Plans were submitted and made public. Their only purpose was to give a vague idea of what the new project could look like, and that it was less costly than renovating the old mansion.
  • in March 2010, the Superior Court upholds its rejection of that construction permit. Work on the new house can legally start.

3. Gizmodo announces it has the exclusive plans of Steve Jobs future home

This is where we stood before Gizmodo claimed in great fanfare that they had obtained the plans for Steve’s future home in their Sep. 28 article.

A whole sea of blog posts and other sorts of media attention followed. One example I will highlight: the Forbes article entitled The Marxist Foundations of Steve Jobs’ New Home. It’s interesting for two reasons. One, it’s from Forbes magazine, i.e. it illustrates how mainstream the subject of Steve Jobs’ private life has now become. The second, because it shows how much journalists can talk about a subject they know nothing or very little of. In our case, the supposed “Steve Jobs’ new home”.

The general feeling people got about the plans was: wow. It’s so simple. It’s so humble. It looks like… an Apple product! Well, had they been a little more familiar with the subject of Steve — by visiting certain websites — this is not what should have surprised them. Steve is very well known for leading a very humble life. He has no chauffeur, private bodyguards, and doesn’t live in a 20-bedroom mansion (although he does a private jet). He doesn’t go out much and entertains very rarely. His life is focused on only two things: Apple, and his family.

Hence the only thing I was surprised by: the lack of any noticeable office space. Indeed, Steve is well known for working from home, sometimes very late at night — yet although all the furniture appear in the plans, I couldn’t see a single desk anywhere, much less a separate office.

4. The truth is revealed

Thank God there still are a couple of real journalists out there who do their job right — instead of publishing whatever they have at hand that is likely to make sensation. I am not sure who uncovered it first, but the first time I read it was in Philipp Elwer-Demitt’s blog (Philipp covers Apple for Fortune Magazine) :

To make a long story short, the plans uncovered by Gizmodo were in fact from the 2009 city council, “for the sole use of estimating the environmental costs of various demolition alternatives”. If I understand correctly, they were submitted even earlier, in 2008. You read right — they’re not the real ones. The only thing Gizmodo could claim to defend themselves is that the plans could actually have been real. I myself think that the actual house will not be that much different from what the plans showed.

Conclusion

Apart from the widespread incompetence and lack of professionalism of journalists (no news to me), this whole affair shows how pervasive Steve Jobs has become in our culture. I could not have begun to imagine that only five years ago; the whole Web and even traditional media covering a fake leak of plans for his future home? Another comment: I don’t think Steve must have appreciated this much attention. Maybe Gizmodo did use that as payback for the charges on Gizmodo-gate. Who knows?

Bonus link for you guys : from one of my favorite place on the web, the Joy of Tech comic, a cartoon showing the hidden features of Steve’s new home. 🙂 Reminds me of their classic, What’s really behind a Steve Jobs Keynote.

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