The Call

A peek behind the curtains—to top secret aerospace research, the Hubble Telescope, and Steve Jobs’ living room.

“Alan, this is Steve.”

Alan Brooking ran through his mental contact list. Steve? Steve? Then the voice on the phone gave a Cupertino address and it clicked. Steve Jobs.

Brooking was the head of the Louis H. Hill Company at the time, a Santa Clara outfit that specialized in drapes, blinds, and any manner of device to control light in a room. His business had installed the tracks and security curtains that Lockheed Martin used to hide top-secret projects from underclearanced eyes. He had hung the static-free curtains for the entryway of the NASA cleanroom where the Hubble Telescope was built. Even the laser barriers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were installed by his company.

And sometimes work extended into a Valley luminary’s home, such as Steve Jobs’.

Brooking remembers the house call, and finding that the cord to the blinds he had recently installed had been cut. Jobs admitted, the cord had been too long for his tastes, so he took some interior design initiative. Turns out simple, no frills design might have sold millions of computers, but its application has its limits.

The company had deep roots in California, as it was held in Alan’s wife’s family for years. Susan Brooking’s uncle, Louis Hill, sold school projectors until he realized how many windows there were in schools, and how dark a room had to be in order to operate a projector. That’s when Hill went from selling a few projectors, to many darkening drapes for the schools that sprouted up all over the Bay Area in the ’50s and ’60s.

The transition from schools to tech companies was a natural for the company, and one that Alan helped guide. When the Brookings retired and sold the company, they were left with a commercial building, but no company.

“We never saw ourselves as commercial landlords,” Susan said about their decision to donate the building to Santa Clara University. “We’re glad that we were able to do something for young people, who will be the next generation of California’s entrepreneurs.”

And when those entrepreneurs build the companies that face the future, it just might be Louis Hill blinds that keep the glare out of their eyes.

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post-image Photo by Charles Barry
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