Steve Jobs fans continue to make pilgrimage to his Palo Alto home
Months after Steve Jobs’ death, fans are still flocking to his home, sometimes by the busload, to pay homage to the Apple founder.
It’s a pilgrimage that thousands have made, some from as far away as Italy and Hong Kong. They also visit Jobs’ childhood home in nearby Los Altos, Calif., where he started Apple in the garage, and the Cupertino headquarters of the company that is now the world’s most valuable.
But his home is the most popular stop on a sightseeing circuit of Jobs’ Silicon Valley: The Palo Alto neighborhood where Jobs’ silver Mercedes is still parked, still without a license plate, on a quiet street flanked by majestic old trees and historic homes.
“I wanted to see where the great man lived,” said Anna Bonaccorso, a 63-year-old from Brooklyn, N.Y. She paused furtively to snap a photograph of the house on a recent afternoon before trying to slip away unnoticed.
Jobs may have been a recluse, but he did not wall himself off from the world in a secluded compound. He lived just steps from his neighbors in a 1930s brick-and-slate country cottage that looks as if it were plucked from an English village in the Cotswolds.
“I was surprised that anyone can just walk by,” said Bonaccorso, who took pains to be discreet to respect the privacy of Jobs’ widow, Laurene, and three kids who still live at the house. “People should be able to live a normal life, no matter how much money you make or how famous you are.”
After Jobs succumbed to a long battle with pancreatic cancer Oct. 5, hundreds gathered in iPhone-lit vigils outside his home. They paid their respects and expressed their sorrow in chalk and crayon. They lined the low split-rail fence with apples with one bite taken out of them. The sidewalk overflowed with garlands of flowers, handwritten notes, even a first-generation iPodwith “Stay hungry, stay foolish” scrawled on it in black marker.
Winter has thinned the crowds and stripped the leaves from the apple trees in his yard. Gone too are the police barricades and security detail in black SUVs. Only the hum of cars and the occasional clicks of bikes disturb the stillness.
But the shades remain drawn to shield Jobs’ family from the world pressing against the windows. Every day rubberneckers cruise the block and whip out iPhones to take pictures.
Neighbors, who knew Jobs not as a Silicon Valley celebrity but as a husband and father, chase away busloads of tourists and intercept gawkers who stray onto the property. They fiercely protect the family’s privacy the way Jobs himself used to do. One has threatened to hand out paintball guns to her kids.
Only in Palo Alto could such a public figure lead such a private life. Here the locals gave Jobs a wide berth and hardly give a second glance to Google’s Larry Page and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, both of whom live just blocks away.
Jobs bought the charming yet unassuming 5,768-square-foot house on a half an acre for a few million dollars after he married Laurene in 1991. The couple wanted a neighborhood where their kids could walk to visit their friends. It’s also how Jobs stayed connected to real people for whom he dreamed up the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.
He was a familiar apparition in Palo Alto in his St. Croix black turtleneck, old Levi’s and New Balance shoes. He was often spotted having a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal and fresh blueberries at the yogurt shop Fraiche or dining at former Google chef Charlie Ayers’ Calafia Cafe. He shopped for groceries just like everyone else at Safeway and Whole Foods. One of his favorite haunts was the Apple store two miles from his home where he chatted up customers.
Even his biographer Walter Isaacson was surprised at how unpretentiously Jobs lived: No live-in help, no security guards, no drivers. He even kept the back door unlocked during the day.
Passersby could glimpse Jobs sitting in front of a glowing iMac in a corner study overlooking apple trees, or ran into him when he was out walking and holding hands with his wife.
And on Halloween, when lines of kids spilled onto the sidewalk, his trick was to dress up as Frankenstein and hand out Odwalla bars masquerading as treats.
Like many, Lisen Stromberg won’t remember her neighbor for the MacBook Air she writes on or the iPhone she talks on. She’ll think back to that Halloween night when she and her son walked by Jobs dressed as Frankenstein and he smiled and said, “Hi, Lisen.”
“My son thought I was the coolest mom in town when he realized The Steve Jobs knew me,” Stromberg wrote in a blog post before Jobs died. “Thanks for the coolness points, Steve.”
Just weeks after his death, his family kept the tradition alive. Dry ice fog blanketed carved jack-o’-lanterns, thunder rumbled from hidden speakers, and the iron front gate opened so that kids, some dressed as iPads and iPods, could score cellophane bags filled with orange candy slices, Toblerone bars and sour drops.