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AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site

While Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) sheds some execs, including CEO Pat Russo, the company is also unloading a key piece of real estate -- the old Bell Labs site.

The Star-Ledger of New Jersey reported on Sunday that Somerset Development has signed a contract for the 473-acre site in Holmdel, N.J.

Ralph Zucker, president of the real estate development firm, is quoted saying he's planning on creating retail and residential space -- but doing so inside the 2-million-square-foot Bell Labs building.

That's a big deal, because the building was designed by Eero Saarinen, a famous Finnish architect and champion vowel collector. An earlier deal that would have demolished most of the building led to fierce protest from scientists, preservationists, and architects.

The building has lost its past glory in more ways than one. Physically, it's in disrepair: The Star-Ledger uses words such as "vines" and "puddles" to describe the inside, and a photograph shows a courtyard gone to seed.

Then, there's the history, of course. Bell Labs scientists came up with ideas such as the transistor, the laser, the solar cell, the picturephone (in 1970!), and, of course, fiber optics.

Bell Labs also hosted pure research at a level beyond that found in corporations today. That included studies in fields such as radio astronomy, where researchers inadvertently ended up finding the background radiation predicted by the Big Bang theory.

Much of Bell Labs' work was related to U.S. national defense, too, which is one reason why the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) was so interested in the 2006 merger of Lucent and Alcatel. (See US to Watch Alcatel Lucent.)

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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Duh! 12/5/2012 | 3:35:11 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site Sic transit gloria mundi
venturecapital 12/5/2012 | 3:35:11 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site I remember my first day of work at Bell Labs, walking through the magnificent Holmdel structure, and feeling the pride of becoming part of such a world-class group of scientists and engineers. Just as the company has since fallen into ruin and was sold off, I guess it is only fitting to sell the crumbling building.
bollocks187 12/5/2012 | 3:35:08 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site Where have all the good guys gone ?

Lost in US innovation and outsourcing

AlcaLu what a crap company and certainly not innovative anymore.
njguy 12/5/2012 | 3:35:04 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site In that picture you can see the cubicles that were added to the (huge!) atrium during peak growth just a few years ago.

The building held maybe 5000 before the cubicles and they squeezed in a few hundred more that way. The last people to work parked on the grass back then. Last year when they closed it, they told the ~1000 people left to drive an hour further north.

Rumor has it that a *major* water leak filled the basement levels while it was empty. Nobody new until the town told them they had a million gallon water bill.
nodak 12/5/2012 | 3:35:04 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site What a sad day. I remember visiting the building in 2001. To see that picture really makes you wonder how the execs can continue to paint such a rosy picture. Thinking of all the history made in that building makes cringe to hear it will become shopping and living space. The break up of Ma Bell was good for long distance communications and help to drive the boom in the 90's, but it really did a lot to kill off Bell Labs, which many of the technologies used during the boom. No non-governmental lab will ever have the kind of freedom to perform research for the sake of knowledge these guys did. Everyone is to focused on making large profits (see Exxon Mobil's refusal to even consider investing in renewable resources as another income stream).

For all you Lucent bashers (I admit to making fun of them as well), let's take a look at their problem. They wound up in the same situation airlines did after deregulation. They had lost their cash cow (Ma Bell with its monopoly and fixed, gauranteed profit vs Civil Aeronautics Board raising fares to guarantee profit) and had to figure out how to make a profit while maintaining competitiveness. Both were a slaves to their past (Lucent to ATT; airlines to the hub system). It seems like neither side has been overly successful and the newcomers have feasted (Cisco, Juniper, Ciena, and others vs. Southwest, Jet Blue, and a few others).
rahat.hussain 12/5/2012 | 3:35:03 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site I believe that none of the big inventions/discoveries - transistor, big bang radiation, fiber optics - were at this Holmdel site.

Please check your facts - my recollection (and I am an old man, mighty proud of the Bell Labs tradition) is that the Murray Hill and Crawford Hill sites are the places deserving the merit.

Doesn't diminish from the story, but lets not glamorize this particular place more than one needs to.

odo
Stevery 12/5/2012 | 3:35:03 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site What a goddamn waste.

And to think that the board gave Pat close to $10M on the way out for her hard work. Obviously, the message to the next CEO is: A massive destruction of value is worth $10M to you personally.

FYI: odo is right. Transistor at Murray Hill, background radiation at Crawford Hill (long gone, no?). Don't know for sure about earliest fiber work.

However, that should not detract from the fact: the breadth and depth of work done at Holmdel is astounding. That pic is a heartbreaker.
njguy 12/5/2012 | 3:35:03 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site Many of the peak-growth atrium cubicles were placed near tall planters with trees (seen in the photo). Those cubicles had to be retrofitted with screened tops to keep most of the leaves out.

Well before the last people were out, much of the greenery was clear-cut, probably so they could let go of some maintenance people. Think 40 foot long planters full of stumps.

In terms of the "puddles", the glass in the atrium ceiling (see picture) took a lot of maintenance.
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:35:02 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site Yeah, Odo's right. I got carried away & started including things that I think might have been invented before the holmdel building was even built.

The point was more to do yet another obit for the old Bell Labs. And yeah, that picture is heartbreaking.

Folks on the Star-Ledger site were commenting that the building looks an awful lot like a prison. At least one is claiming the design really *was* for a prison, but I don't know... I'd chalk it up more to new wave architectural wackiness. Anyone out there know for sure?
^Eagle^ 12/5/2012 | 3:35:00 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site I met the architect of the building many years ago. (in another part of my life I had a passionate interest in architecture and almost went into that field instead of telecom). I specifically asked him about the design of Holmdel.

He was going for an integration of light and texture between inside and outside and trying to make the space airy and open to offset the gloomy winters in that area and make a place to work that had almost a park like feeling. the landscaping and glass were meant to give the feeling of open ness and transparency and collegial collaboration.

Definitely not based on a prison. It would actually be a HORRIBLE prison design.

The architect and I discussed several of his buildings and designs over a several hour discussion and dinner.

sailboat
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