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Why is Pixar headquartered in Emeryville?

The short version:

Pixar’s roots are in Marin County, CA, where Ed Catmull came to start the Lucasfilm (company) Computer Division. After Pixar spun off we stayed there in San Rafael for four years while trying to find a place of our own. Eventually we found rental space in Point Richmond, and moved there in June, 1990. After Toy Story it was clear that we needed a space of our own and, after the IPO, we had the cash to do something about it.

The hunt for a new home was difficult. Finding good commercial real estate in the San Francisco Bay Area is a lot harder than you’d think. We looked at lots of buildings in Marin and the East Bay, including one or two in Emeryville. Finally we were (I found out through my sources) about to sign a lease on some waterfront property in Richmond. Based on that I made an offer on my first home, a loft condo, in Emeryville. Then, while the deal was closing, the dummy who owned the property in Richmond decided that, since Steve Jobs was involved, he could jack up the price. Bad idea.

So we were back to square one. And suddenly (I love that phrase in a story) Kaiser Permanente got browbeat by the city of Oakland to stay in the city limits and dropped their option on a 12-acre property in Emeryville. It was the site of the old Del Monte fruit canning factory. Twelve acres of prime commercial real estate, plus a fresh IPO meant that it took something like 14 nanoseconds for Pixar to snatch it up.

Steve oversaw the design and construction of what is now the Pixar main building. In case you wonder where the money from A Bug’s Life went, we’re working in it. We moved in November, 2000.

Speaking for myself, and no doubt more than a few others, we consider it a feature that we’re not anywhere near Hollywood. That distance gives us better perspective and more normal lives. Note that we’re hardly the only filmmaking company or animation studio up here. Lucasfilm, American Zoetrope, Tippet Studios, and PDI all call the Bay Area home as well.

Steve was never involved in the day-to-day at Pixar so the commute didn’t bother him much. There were large stretches of time, even in Richmond, where we never saw him around. (Someone spotted him up there one day driving around, trying to remember where our driveway entrance was.) NeXT and, later, Apple, kept him pretty busy.

At least for a while I looked really clever for buying a place so close to work. Friends asked if I had inside information. The truth was that I did, but that it said we’d be in Richmond. As my grandmother used to say, it’s better to be lucky than smart.