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Menlo Park startup chooses midcentury stunner for new home [Correction]

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Cliff May-designed office space now features a mural by Berkeley-based artist Nigel Sussman

Photos courtesy of Robinhood/Embarcadero Capital Partners

[Correction: The building that Robinhood currently calls home is not the iconic south building where Sunset Magazine used to be, which housed the test kitchens and the publication’s editorial offices. (A former Sunset editor explains, “The north building was the home, for many years, of the books division.”) We regret the error.]

Silicon Valley tech companies can’s resist the ego-driven urge to outdo each other with bigger and bolder office structures. Facebook’s Frank Gehry campus in Menlo Park begat Apple’s neofuturistic Norman Foster UFO in Cupertino. LinkedIn’s Darth Vader-esque stump in San Francisco gave rise to the Pelli Clarke Pelli-designed Salesforce Tower a few blocks away. And so on.

So it’s refreshing when a startup takes the posturing down a notch, like Robinhood did in Menlo Park, choosing the north-side expansion to the circa-1951 Cliff May office space as its new headquarters.

But this isn’t just any midcentury stunner: Sunset Magazine, the West Coast’s foremost lifestyle publication, tapped May, the originator of California ranch-style architecture, to build their new headquarters (with adjoining test garden by Thomas Church), which has become the poetic ideal of office space. The iconic publication was the perfect fit for an iconic house.

Shortly before Time Inc. sold the property and ousted the magazine in 2014, Sunset Magazine detailed its decades-long home, saying: “The story starts in 1951, when Sunset moved from its San Francisco headquarters out to the Bay Area suburbs. The architect was Cliff May, a Los Angeles resident who built the space (his first commercial one) to look like a classic ranch-style home on 7 acres of property. Thomas Church landscaped the gardens (each one representing the different climates of the West) and Charlotte Hinckley helped design the interior (an ode to the “craftsmanship of the early Spanish-Californians”). Even after it was up and running, Sunset staffers operated the office much like what they preached in their magazine: designing, organizing, planting, and cooking.”

Vaulted roof and exposed beams still grace exterior spaces.

(The publication relocated to Oakland’s Jack London Square in 2016. It later moved to an Oakland WeWork in fall 2018.)

The property, also noted for its indoor-outdoor use of space, was sold to San Francisco real estate investment and management company Embarcadero Capital Partners, who leased it to Robinhood, a free stock exchange company, making the startup the only other tenant to date.

In lieu of demolishing the historic office—a concern for many design fans following the sale of the property—Embarcadero Capital Partners decided to preserve the May-designed structure.

“We are going to treat this project with tender and loving care,” John Hamilton, principal partner in Embarcadero Capital Partners, told Eichler Network.

Robinhood now occupies the expansion to the original property, which used to house the magazine’s books division.

New additions inside the newer area include 41 conference rooms and phone booths; a wellness and mother’s room; and recreational room with arcade games, a pool table, and a gym. There’s even a feline-themed mural by Berkeley-based artist Nigel Sussman.

Here’s a peek at how it looks today.

Conference area.
Period chairs add to the midcentury vibe.
Robinhood comes equipped with requisite tech accents, the pool table and arcade game.
Nigel Sussman’s mural features cats in outer space, among other whimsy.
Central courtyard.