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bell labs saarinen holmdel nj

Now, Bell Labs may pull the ultimate vanishing act: It may disappear forever. The former home of Nobel Prize-winning scientists whose research made possible the cell phone, the computer—and a score of other indispensable products in the average household—stands vacant, a holdover from an era when large private facilities stood at the forefront of scientific research in this country. (Bell, one of the last bastions of basic research in the corporate world, closed its physics lab last year.)

Alcatel/Lucent, the most recent owner, left the site two years ago and last fall contracted to sell it to Somerset Development. Based in nearby Lakewood, N.J., Somerset has proposed an ambitious plan to transform the site into a kind of New Urbanist town square—a plan that calls for new development but has heartened many Bell Labs devotees because it saves the building.

This month, however, Holmdel's township committee commissioned and released a plan of its own, recommending that Bell Labs be razed to make way for golf links, equestrian grounds, and million-dollar houses, among other projects. The building, the report suggests, is nothing more than a rapidly expiring white elephant, past the point of resuscitation.

Bell Labs has already survived one call for demolition, proposed a few years ago by a different firm interested in developing the site. Now a political battle is imminent in Holmdel, a town of 15,000-plus people with a median household income over $110,000, about how—if at all—the building can be adapted for 21st-century use. The fate of one of Saarinen's final projects, which brought many of a generation's finest minds to Holmdel—physicists and engineers working elbow-to-elbow on cutting-edge research—stands in the balance.

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