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HEWLETT, PACKARD SCOFF AT CALLING GARAGE SILICON VALLEY'S BIRTHPLACE

The founders of Hewlett-Packard Co., the $10 billion computer and electronics giant, returned after 50 years to the garage where they started out for the dedication of the building as a state landmark.

It was in the wooden garage that William R. Hewlett and David Packard in 1938 parlayed $538 in capital and an audio oscillator into one of the world's leading electronics companies.Their company, which employs 87,000 people, has headquarters a couple of miles away in Palo Alto.

But after poking around the dark and dingy interior during the dedication Friday, Hewlett and Packard said they did not accept its billing as "birthplace of Silicon Valley" and were not eager to reminisce. A plaque is to be set in a sandstone rock in front of the garage to mark its landmark status.

Packard, asked how it felt to return after half a century, said, "It makes me feel pretty old and decrepit."

"I feel the same way," said Hewlett.

Although both are billionaires, neither has thought about buying the property at 367 Addison Ave., which has become a favorite photo stop for touring Japanese electronics groups and young Stanford engineers.

"Why would we?" Hewlett said. "It's a bunch of junk."

Packard said it was the first time they'd been back to the garage since 1939. Packard and his wife rented the 1905-vintage wood-shingle house in front and Hewlett rented a cottage out back.

Hewlett, who turned 76 Saturday, and Packard, also 76, have long retired from daily management of the company, though they remain its largest shareholders. Hewlett resigned as vice chairman of the board in 1987; Packard remains chairman.

Hewlett-Packard's success spurred the growth of the region around Stanford University that became known as Silicon Valley. The area got its name from the silicon wafers used to make most computer chips or semiconductors.

Hewlett said he doesn't think the garage should be called the birthplace of the valley.

"We had practically nothing to do with silicon and we weren't the first (company) in the valley," he said.

About half a dozen electrical products companies were in the San Francisco Bay area in 1938, Hewlett said, including a vacuum tube factory in nearby Redwood City run by Charles Litton. His company later became Litton Industries, a huge manufacturer of high-tech appliances.

A few hundred Hewlett-Packard employees threw a street party outside the garage, complete with balloons, a brass band and food kiosks, but neither of the founders seemed excited about the landmark designation.

"The only trouble is, you can't tear it down now," Hewlett said.

"I'm not very strong on reminiscing," said Packard. "I think we ought to be looking forward instead of backward."

The audio oscillator that the two started out with was a $79.50 model of a $400 machine sold by another company in the 1930s. The oscillator emits various frequencies, allowing the testing of sound equipment, telephones, amplifiers and talking pictures.