Five hundred Google employeees work and play in an art deco icon that once housed the Port Authority of New York.
In the building where Guy Tozzoli hatched plans in the early '60s for an urban renewal project called the World Trade Center, young Google engineers now build software for the ultimate answer machine.
Five hundred Google engineers, salespeople, and support staff work--and play--in more than 250,000 square feet of space in an Art Deco icon that once housed the Port Authority of New York, the bistate agency (New Jersey included) that manages the metropolitan area's transportation infrastructure. The decor has changed, with Google's bright colors, bouncy exercise balls, and glass-walled offices, but the building's long corridors and 15-foot ceilings echo the past.
The building, at 111 Eighth Ave., covers an entire city block, from Eighth Avenue to Ninth Avenue and between 15th and 16th streets. Google occupies the entire fourth floor, as well as parts of the sixth and eighth floors. The building opened in 1932 as a center for commerce, which at the time revolved around transportation. With more than 2 million square feet of interior space, it once ranked as the world's second-largest building in terms of square footage, says Joe Mysak, author of Perpetual Motion: The Illustrated History Of The Port Authority Of New York & New Jersey (Stoddart, 1997).
"It was built as this truck palace, almost an economic incubator for New York City," Mysak says. "Giving all that space to trucking at the time was almost revolutionary."
The Port Authority described the building in 1941 as a vital artery for military and industrial purposes. On June 15, 1955, during a civil defense drill in the midst of the Cold War, Gov. Averell Harriman took shelter in the Port Authority building, while up in the Bronx a Yankees game was delayed for 23 minutes. The building's elevators can still hoist trucks weighing up to 20 tons.
In front of those freight elevators, speakers in Google's Tech Talk auditorium draw crowds to one of New York City's most connected buildings. The Port Authority's departure to the World Trade Center in 1973 allowed private developers to build a "carrier hotel," with miles of cables that support a telecommunications infrastructure used by tenants such as Bell Canada, BellSouth, MCI, NTT, Qwest, and Sprint.
Google salespeople in suits and ties ride scooters through the long hallways to talk with engineers in jeans or play foosball or Guitar Hero. On their way to the recreation area or the eighth-floor Hemispheres cafeteria, they pass old loading docks where, decades ago, freight workers played pickup football games between loading and unloading jobs. The place is so expansive that Google engineering directors needed to consult a map to find an assigned conference room for a recent meeting with InformationWeek.
Tozzoli once worked there, too, choosing engineers and architects to build the then-unthinkable 110-story towers for commerce and trade. Today, Google engineers and salespeople labor to create new possibilities for Internet users. And, like Port Authority officials during wartime, they play hard while maintaining strict secrecy about what exactly their work entails.
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