When the McGraw-Hill distribution center opened along the Novato foothills in 1964, it incited some controversy. At the time, the surrounding area was dominated by farmland and dairy pasture. The idyllic countryside was transformed by John Savage Bolles’ huge modern structure with a hyperbolic undulating roofline.
However incongruous it may have appeared, the McGraw-Hill campus was carefully and thoughtfully designed. The space-age warehouse was positioned in the front of the property, offering privacy to office workers stationed in a rear building. The secluded office building, while relatively closed in the front, opened up to a serene courtyard in back. The tastefully landscaped patio area featured a pond, plenty of employee seating, and an assortment of modern art.
Over time, the McGraw-Hill campus became an accepted, if not expected, part of the Novato visual landscape. In the early 1990s, the space was leased to Birkenstock for its United States distribution headquarters. Birkenstock occupied the site for fifteen years before moving its fulfillment operations to Kentucky in 2007. Today the impressive McGraw-Hill campus sits empty, awaiting new tenants or possible redevelopment.
2008 (Heather David)
Although the campus is currently closed, the warehouse is impossible to miss from Highway 101 and/or Redwood Boulevard.
The former McGraw-Hill Distribution Center is one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best remaining examples of mid-century modern architecture. Whenever possible, John Savage Bolles pushed the boundaries of conventional taste, combining function with cutting edge experimentation. A connoisseur of fine art, in nearly every large commission, Bolles incorporated the work of local artists.
The McGraw-Hill warehouse and office complex in Novato is located on the west side of Highway 101, between Novato and Petaluma. Occupying a small portion of a larger 93-acre property on the slopes of Mt. Burdell, the warehouse, with its distinctive hyperbolic-paraboloid roof, is a distinctive local landmark. The complex was designed by noted modernist architect John Savage Bolles and it opened for business in 1963, serving as a regional distribution hub for McGraw-Hill Company, one of America’s largest publishers. In 1991, the property was purchased by Birkenstock. The McGraw-Hill complex is one of the most visible and well-known examples of modernist design in Marin County and is arguably the most important landmark in Novato, which lost its wonderful Nave Lanes bowling alley in the early 2000s. The warehouse was left vacant for several years but it appears to be in use again.