Times of Oman
Oct 13, 2015 LAST UPDATED AT 10:55 AM GMT
Facebook still figuring out about staff housing
March 2, 2013 | 12:00 AM

In February 2011, Facebook announced that it would move its headquarters to the former campus of Sun Microsystems in Menlo Park, California.

The site was first envisioned as providing work space for about 3,000 employees. Then, in August, Facebook said it would expand with Frank Gehry-designed office space for an additional 2,800 workers. The rebuilding is well under way, with 2,000 employees on site; merchants, from gourmet eateries to hair salons, have set up on-campus outlets intended for Facebook employees only. "It is the 21st century company town," the Silicon Valley futurist Paul Saffo told the Los Angeles Times.

Facebook is now figuring out where the influx of employees will live. Some may be housed on the campus. Facebook has partnered with a developer to build about 250 housing units. According the San Mateo Daily Journal, however, the company may face pressure to help develop thousands more units in an area that has long neglected affordable housing.

The history of US company towns shows that Facebook is up against an old problem. Consider the case of Roebling, New Jersey, which was constructed at the turn of the 20th century by the steelmaker John A. Roebling & Sons.

Brooklyn Bridge
The company produced the cables that were used in the construction of the Roebling-designed bridges across the Monongahela River, the Niagara River, the Ohio River and New York City's East River.

By the turn of the 20th century, high prices for imported steel prompted the family to seek new steelmaking capacity, and they realised there was insufficient land near their existing works in Trenton, New Jersey, to meet their needs.

Instead, they chose a spot on the Delaware River that was close to the Camden & Amboy Railroad. It was called Kinkora, and later redubbed Roebling.

The area was devoid of housing, so the company decided to erect a model town for its workers. Washington A. Roebling wanted it known that the decision was a "plain business necessity." The company's owners, he said, weren't "posing as idealists or reformers."

In 1904, Roebling Steel bought 250 acres and set to work. The project proved more complex than first imagined. It required erecting buildings for a number of stores, constructing a water system, paving streets and laying on gas and electricity. There would also have to be a police force and a jail, along with public schools. The company's share of the cost would run to $80,000. "The man who owns a town often wishes he had never been born," Washington Roebling ruefully said.

Roebling contained 750 brick houses, equipped with gas and electric utilities that were provided at minimum cost. There were also two workingmen's hotels.

In many company towns, beverages and saloons were barred, not to mention bawdy houses. Coal towns paid local sheriffs to keep an eye on any strangers — and to rough up and evict any perceived "union organisers."

The Roeblings avoided such watchfulness, and even installed a club at the town's inn. ("You can't make a mollycoddle out of a mill man," Charles Roebling said.) It was a dictum of the company that town residents "would be under no obligation to us nor we to them as far as life in the city is concerned."

As with other company towns such as Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point, Maryland, Roebling had several classes of houses, all with appropriately varying rents.

Row houses
In Roebling, hourly workers lived in row houses near the plant, skilled workers got semidetached houses closer to the town centre and managers received larger houses facing the river. All buildings were maintained by the company, as were lawns and the park.
In all company-owned towns, Sparrows Point and Roebling included, workers who lost their jobs were evicted from company housing. (Roebling leases allowed eviction on one week's notice if a man "got out of line.") And at Roebling, as in the rest of the steel industry, working hours were 12 hours a day, seve

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