Some birthplaces of people inspire great monuments and a flood of tourist traffic. When it's the birth of an idea, a product, or a movement, you may find the place where it all began to be far more humble.
There's something about points of origin that has always fascinated me—that exact spot where something was realized for the first time. "Birthplaces," I suppose, is how we tend to categorize them, and in general I think people tend to associate birthplaces with people, right? I, along with my twin sister, Margaret, was born December 22, 1961 at New York Hospital in New York City. Whenever I go back and visit New York today, and I see the hospital from East River Drive, I glance up near the window where we were born (my mom once pointed out the location). I'm left with a simple, whimsical feeling: "That's where I started. That's where I entered the world." The same thing applies at the site where our children were born in Santa Monica, California. Though part of the delivery wing was destroyed in 1994 Northridge earthquake, it's still sacred ground for me and my wife, whether the building is there or not.
But there are also interesting birthplaces that are not associated with people; places where ideas, works of art, businesses, social movements and religions were born. From blue jeans, plutonium and the Cobb salad to Slinkys, kazoos and the Blues, there are birth sites—precise spots in the ground where these things first came into being. In many cases, these locations are obscure, they're unmarked or they have been forgotten altogether. For that reason, they don't turn up on too many travel itineraries. I mean, you might be walking mere blocks away from the birthplace of the cheeseburger, the Internet or where "Happy Birthday To You" was written without even knowing it. Here are a few random ones worth stumbling upon.
Google—the search is over.
The garage located at 232 Santa Margarita Avenue in Menlo Park, California looks like many others in the neighborhood. But it's not. See, this is the site of the first office and birthplace of Google after its conception at Stanford University in 1998. Stanford grad students Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with search engine concept while hanging out in Page's dorm room. They registered the domain name Google.com and then, after receiving $1 million in backing, the pair incorporated Google and moved the operation into this garage at the Menlo Park home of Intel employee Susan Wojcicki (she charged them $1,700 a month to help pay her mortgage).
The garage couldn't hold them for long, though. Google's explosive growth prompted the duo to move two more times—first to a small office in Palo Alto, then to their current Googleplex in Mountain View. Wojcicki remained an integral part of the company, eventually becoming Google's vice–president of product management. And while the garage is not open for public tours, in October 2006, Google did purchase the 1,900–sqare–foot residence to preserve it as part of their legacy.
While on the subject of garages…
The Hewlett Packard garage in Palo Alto is marked with an official plaque, but not this one at 2066 Crist Drive in Los Altos, California. In 1975, the paths of two former high–school classmates, Bay Area tech–heads and teenagers Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, crossed at this spot. At the time, Wozniak was working on a primitive forerunner of the personal computer. Hewlett–Packard and Atari showed little interest in the Apple I, but Jobs thought there was something to the device and insisted that he and Wozniak start a company. In 1976, they wound up here in the Jobs family's garage, where Jobs' father removed his car–restoration gear and helped the boys by hauling home a huge wooden workbench that served as their first manufacturing base.
The Apple I debuted at the Homebrew Computer Club in April of 1976, but few took it seriously. Little did they know how this computer would impact technology. The Apple Computer Company was incorporated on January 3, 1977, and went on to produce generations of user–friendly personal computers and software (though unlike Google, they have yet to purchase this garage).
Pass the Pepper
Was Dr Pepper really inspired by the sensitive nose of a pharmacist? In 1885, Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist working at Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, is believed to have invented the drink, using his acute sense of smell. He spent most of his time mixing up medicine for customers, but in his spare time he enjoyed serving carbonated drinks at the soda fountain. But mostly, he loved the smell of the drugstore where the aromas of all the various fruit syrups mixed together in the air. He decided to try to capture it by creating a drink that tasted like that smell. Keeping a journal, he experimented repeatedly until he finally hit upon a mixture of fruit syrups that he liked. Morrison is also credited with naming the drink "Dr. Pepper" (the period was dropped in the 1950s).
Unfortunately, the exact origin is unclear, though the Dr Pepper Museum has collected over a dozen different stories on how the drink obtained its peculiar name. To this day, the Dr Pepper Company is the oldest major manufacturer of soft drink concentrates and syrups in the United States. Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store, originally located in Waco at the corner of N. 4th Street and Austin Avenue, can now be seen here at the Dr Pepper Museum, located at 300 S. 5th Street in Waco. The exceptional museum tour includes many interesting smells and flavors in the Old Corner Drug Store, a tour of the bottling room, the chance to crown a soft drink bottle, and of course Dr. Pepper in the soda fountain.
A run for the border
At 7112 Firestone Boulevard in Downey, California, there's a taco stand. The food is good and authentic and it's a regular hangout for many locals. If it looks a bit familiar, there's good reason: it's the birthplace of Taco Bell and it became the model for the Mission–style edifices that came to define the brand. In 1962, Glen Bell opened the first Taco Bell restaurant in this actual structure. Two years later, the first Taco Bell franchise was sold and from there the concept exploded across the country (interestingly, the "Bell" in the name "Taco Bell" comes from the last name of the founder).
After expanding Taco Bell around the world, Glen Bell would eventually sell the company for $130 million but the site of his brainchild remains today. A new, modern Taco Bell is located almost adjacent to this building, creating a "time span" of the corporation in one field of view.
Bill W., on the rocks.
Alcoholics Anonymous originated at 263 South Main Street in Akron, Ohio on May 11, 1935; not by vote, committee, or proclamation, but by the private gut–wrenching decision of one man. That night, Bill W. found himself at a crossroads. An alcoholic who had nearly drunk himself to death, he had finally begun a sober life after four detox hospital stays. But, alone on a business trip here in Ohio, his newfound sobriety was being threatened. He found himself standing in the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel, desperately wanting a drink.
With burning anxiety, he weighed all of his options and decided he had a choice: order a cocktail in the hotel bar, or call someone and ask for help in his battle to stay sober. Sensing that this was his last chance, he gathered his strength and passed by the hotel bar. Minutes later he was on the phone with Henrietta Seiberling, an Oxford Group adherent. (The Oxford Group was an early self–help group) She arranged a meeting with a Dr. Bob Smith to take place the next day at the Gate Lodge, a three–bedroom house located at the Stan Hywet Hall where she lived. (The doctor was also an alcoholic and she felt the meeting might benefit both men.) Alcoholics Anonymous grew out of that meeting. Today, the Mayflower Hotel has become the Mayflower Manor apartments.
A golden opportunity for travelers
James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848 on the South Fork of the American River in Coloma, California. This event led to the greatest mass movement of people in the Western Hemisphere and was the spark that ignited the spectacular growth of the west during the ensuing decades. The precise gold discovery site is located in the still–visible tailrace of Sutter's sawmill, and though it's a bit of a challenge to locate, a historic marker fills you in on the exact details once you arrive at this, one of the most significant historic sites in the nation.
In addition to this birthplace of the Gold Rush, the park here at 310 Back Street in Coloma has a museum, a replica of the sawmill and a number of historic buildings. Visitors also have the opportunity to try panning for gold in the American River or enjoy a picnic under the trees. The monument and statue placed above Marshall's gravesite (who died in 1885) is California's first historic landmark.
To boldly go to a future birthplace
In Riverside, Iowa is one of the stranger birthsites in the United States, for the birth has yet to take place. The city officially proclaimed itself the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk, a character from the television show Star Trek played by William Shatner. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, asserts in his book The Making of Star Trek that the character of Kirk had been born in the state of Iowa. In March 1985, when the town was looking for a theme for its annual town festival, Steve Miller, a member of the Riverside City Council who had read Roddenberry's book, suggested to the council that Riverside should proclaim itself to be the future birthplace of Kirk. Miller's motion passed unanimously.
The council later wrote to Roddenberry for his permission to be designated as the official birthplace of Kirk, and Roddenberry agreed. The proclamation declaring the town the "Official Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk," signed by Gene Roddenberry, is housed, along with a carved wooden statue of James T. Kirk, at the Riverside Area Community Club on Route 22 in downtown Riverside. A large stone and plaque in the rear of the building purports to be the site of the future farmstead and birthplace of James Kirk, March 22, 2228.
Birthplaces are all around us: in far off fields, alleys and along the back roads. The Kirk site notwithstanding, they give us a glimpse back in time, when the first sparks flew. They may not always be the most impressive visually or architecturally, but they have soul and spirit and they capture definitive moments for us. They make it easier to think about great beginnings and inspirations, which I think is perfect fodder for the inquisitive traveler.
Chris Epting is the writer/photographer of 15 books, including Led Zeppelin Crashed Here: the Rock and Roll Landmarks of North America. Others include James Dean Died Here; Elvis Presley Passed Here; Roadside Baseball; and The Ruby Slippers, Madonna's Bra, and Einstein's Brain. "The Birthplace Book" comes out later this year. He has contributed articles for such publications as the Los Angeles Times, Westways, Travel + Leisure and Preservation magazine, and is the National Spokesman for the Hampton hotel Save–A–Landmark program. Chris lives in Huntington Beach, CA with his wife and their two children.
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