Remember Woody Allen’s “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)”? The segment where Gene Wilder, playing a shrink, falls for a patient’s sheep?
The scenes were silly but a shear delight. I thought of that last week when, just before writing this column, I succumbed to a desire to cast yet one more adoring gaze upon a particular edifice of steel, stone and sweetly aged beams of wood. My excuse was to photograph the minimalist steel pyramid that pierces the atrium sky.
While taking pains to capture the perfect “pose,” it occurred to me that I was having an “affair” with a 11,000-square-foot office building. My paramour is the Hardwired Building, 340 A Street, the former site of Ashland Hardware.
It got its name for its direct connection to the Ashland Fiber Network, which provides bandwidth-hungry tenants with stunning internet speed. It is not the architecture or the thrill of the download—that moves me. It’s the soul of the space, a sense of community that is familiar to those of us who have a “thing” for Ashland.
I simply didn’t expect to encounter it in an office building. As for the romance, I didn’t see it coming when I climbed the concrete steps to make introductions. The roster of occupants, including an architect, an attorney, an accountant, a cryptographer, a non-profit agency and a digital art and effects company, gave little away.
And even my initial interview with Adam Treister, founder of Tree Star Inc., the dominant tenant, didn’t set off sparks. (Sorry Adam.) Still, if Superman had chosen a software engineer, rather than a reporter, for his cover, he couldn’t have done better than to select the mild-mannered, good-humored Treister.
And while Treister’s super powers are more subtle than those of Clark Kent’ s alter ego, they are no less meaningful for his employees or the greater Hardwired community. Tree Star’s cutting edge FloJo software enables medical researchers around the world to make the most of data collected by a flow cytometer, an apparatus used to count and examine microscopic particles like cells and chromosomes.
That didn’t sound sexy until Treister mentioned that the company, with 30 employees—20 are here, the rest are scattered around the globe— grew 20 percent in just the past year. I got my first clue that I had stumbled onto something special in the office of the non-profit THRIVE, when employee Jamie Clark referred to a woman named Cindy as “The Building Mom.”
“You have a building Mom?”
“She keeps us all in chocolate and coffee.”
From her office nearest the entrance, Cindy Tyran, Tree Star’s director of operations, joyfully embraces her unofficial role as “Mom” and early morning coffee maker.
“I get here early because I want people to smell this delicious coffee when they come in. “This is a special place,” says Tyran. “There’s definitely a synergy here.” Though the tenants are a diverse group, “we all care about the environment and making our interactions positive.
And,” she adds, “Adam is very generous. He buys the organic coffee for everyone in the building, not just his people.”
Back at THRIVE, an organization dedicated to creating a more sustainable local economy, executive director Wendy Siporen tells me she’s pleased to share quarters with people who practice what the non-profit preaches. Treister, she mentioned, buys organic produce from the Fry Family Farm in Talent to be distributed each week to his employees. And, she added, Treister’s taken to distributing local organic beef as well.
Food is just one of the many perks Tree Star provides. Employees are treated to weekly Pilates classes and 20-minute massages three times a month on site, and a knock-off-early party at 3:30 p.m. on Fridays. In the summer they gather around a picnic table on the building’s deck. When I joined Treister and his crew for the chips, popcorn and “chilled carbonated barley and hops soup,” I asked about those perks. “None of it,” he said with a shrug, “was my idea.”
For instance, a confirmed carnivore, programmer Ryan Minihas, took credit for inspiring the beef giveaway. He’d teased his boss that free veggies weren’t particularly motivational.
“If it was a cow you were giving away, then I’d take the gesture seriously,” he recalled deadpanning.
So six months ago for the first time—and again just recently—Treister purchased an organic grass fed cow from the Yale Creek Ranch in the Applegate. “Adam,” says Minihas,” looks like Santa Claus when he’s going around the offices giving away the meat.”
For his part, Treister happily confesses to “skimming” off the top. “The filets,” he said, “never do make it into distribution.”
While Treister kept up the tradition, the tone for the community-minded culture was set by Jim Teece, owner of Project A, a company that provides custom software as well as website and network design. When renovating the shell of the hardware store into “class A office space,” he made a conscious effort to facilitate creative collaboration, setting aside 10 percent of the space for small businesses. He dubbed the spaces “thinkubators.”
Once the dot.com bubble burst in 2000, he moved the company into a smaller building he owns near Emigrant Lake. It was Teece who, during the renovations, commissioned a steel sculpture that would “provide a lift” inside the atrium.
Though tapping the power of the pyramidal shape wasn’t his intent, says Teece, “I do think there’s definitely an energy in that building.” Whether it’s the pyramid power, an inherent vibe of the structure, common spaces that promote connection, a dog-friendly environment, or Treister’s generosity, Ashland businesses appear to be as attracted as I am to the building.
There hasn’t been a vacancy, in fact, for the past three years, says Scott Allen, building manager and owner of AlleNorth Property Management. That’s clearly not the case in other commercial buildings in town. In other words, the Hardwired Building doesn’t need the publicity.
“I wish,” said Allen, “that I could get you to write about the space we’re trying to lease at 320 East Main.”
“Sorry,” I replied, “my heart belongs to another.”