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Auction highlights dot-com luxuries

Failed Web firm’s furnishings were tops in decadence

SHARE Auction highlights dot-com luxuries

SAN FRANCISCO — Before it went bankrupt three months ago, Quokka Sports Inc. provided its workers with comfortable front-row seats to the dot-com decadence that burned through billions of dollars in just a few years.

Investors poured nearly $200 million into the Internet company, some of which helped finance an office that looked more like a technology playground than a workplace.

On Thursday, the company's lavish office went on display as auctioneers prepared to sell Quokka's furniture and equipment.

Until its bankruptcy in April, Quokka produced the official Web site of the 2002 Winter Games for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, along with NBC. Last month, it was agreed that MSNBC.com will produce and host the official Web site of the Games in partnership with SLOC and NBC, which has broadcast rights to the Games. Microsoft's MSN, the top news destination on the Internet with 230 million unique monthly users worldwide, will promote the site, as will NBC.

Each of Quokka's 284 employees had his own plush Herman Miller Aeron executive chair, retailing for $675 apiece. As they tended to Quokka's sports Web site, workers could gaze up at the 20-inch Sony Wega TVs anchored above their desks.

After long hours on the job, some workers never bothered to go home, preferring to sleep in the splendor of Quokka's office between shifts, according to Victoria Stevens, a former Web page designer for Quokka.

"We all got pretty spoiled," said Stevens, who now works for a more frugal Internet business called Redspark.com. "No matter how much we knew it was all going to end, we all loved Quokka. No other job atmosphere will ever compare to it."

The auction featured a portion of the $45 million in assets that Quokka left behind in late April when it closed its sports Web site and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from 3,000 creditors and investors owed nearly $70 million.

The luxury items up for bid included: more than 300 of the Herman Miller chairs; enough big-screen TVs to fill an electronics store, including a $12,000, 42-inch flat-screen TV that hung above Quokka's reception desk; custom-made workstations that cost $1,500 apiece; digital cameras; and, of course, expensive Internet networking equipment along with more than 300 personal computers and laptops.

"It's really sad to see, but it does bring a kind of closure," said Jim Castle, one of Quokka's three remaining workers.

About 1,800 bidders registered for Thursday's auction. Including the registered bidders, an estimated crowd of 3,000 showed up Wednesday during an auction preview at Quokka's headquarters in the dot-com heartland of San Francisco's Multimedia Gulch.

Quokka's $92,000-per-month rent at its 26,000-square-foot office served as another reminder of how far dot-coms strayed from the days when legendary Silicon Valley companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Apple Computer started up in garages.

"Those kind of start-ups went the way of the dodo bird," said high-tech worker Kip Wolin of Oakland as he tested one of the executive chairs during Wednesday's open house. "This was the way dot-coms did things. It was nothing but the best."