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'Casa Facebook' Landlord Recalls Early Days of Cheap Sushi and Paintball

With Facebook's IPO, Judy Fusco has nothing but good wishes for her former tenants who filled the family room with servers and turned the sunroom into a fencing studio and paintball space.

 

It is a day like today, with heading towards $18 billion that Los Altos landlord Judy Fusco may be wishing that she asked for Mark Zuckerberg's $5,500 a-month rent in stock, instead.

But in September 2004, she was just trying to recoup the $1 million she had sunk into building a five-bedroom house near the that had been beset by delays and permit complications. The Thai-born Fusco had hopefully brought Buddhist monks from Buddhanosorn Temple in Fremont to bless the home a few weeks earlier.

"What is 'The Facebook?'" she asked, when she looked at the name on the $10,000 check her prospective tenant handed her for the security deposit.

There was a time, indeed, when that question was perfectly understandable.

Her new tenant, a 20-year-old kid in shorts and flip-flops, "suddenly stood up very straight" and transformed into a different person, she said.

"He looked right at me with those baby-blue eyes," she said, and he spoke for ten minutes. "He said they were going to build a network that would change the world." The kid had something, she thought.

For the next six months, she writes in her book, "Casa Facebook," she watched, as the trio she dubbed the "Three Musketeers," slept late and worked all night. During that time Facebook scaled from 200,000 members to 2.5 million. 

They coined the "Casa Facebook" name, she said. The pale blue home at the end of a narrow street in unincorporated Los Altos, was the nerve center, party house and headquarters of the social network that did, indeed help change the world, she thinks, looking at Egypt.

"The head monk, Prasert, told me when they blessed the house that they could feel this house has good karma."

Fusco would walk up the steep steps on the side of the house each morning to supervise the landscaping of her unfinished backyard, past the window of the dining room, and seeing Zuckerberg or Dustin Moskovitz slumped over their laptops on the dining table she'd let them use because they owned next to nothing. Sean Parker would usually be out scouting investors.

She wasn't the typical landlord. She was a kind of arms-length, indulgent housemother occasionally called to fix mishaps at the house, like unplugging the bathtub drain from sand washed down it, after a day at the beach.

She didn't care if the living room was filled with six servers.

She didn't care if the kitchen was awash in sushi containers and pizza boxes.

She didn't care if the sunroom was getting covered in paintball splatters (though she worried that someone would get hurt fencing there).

She didn't care if they asked to up the power capacity of the house.

She didn't care if she offered them some cookies from a Christmas cookie exchange and they inhaled nearly all of them.

She didn't even care that much when Zuckerberg called her late Saturday night on Thanksgiving weekend from his home on the East Coast. "Judy," he said urgently. "Can you go to the house? We left without locking the door. If we lose the servers, we lose Facebook."

She called her handyman to help her in the dark of the night, where they found four doors open and music blaring. They locked up the house, and Zuckerberg and Moskovitz returned later that weekend.

She hadn't known it at the time, she said, but the reason they had come looking to rent her home was because they had damaged the chimney—running a zip line from it over the pool—at a Barron Park house on 819 La Jennifer Way.

She knew they partied. But "I saw them the same way I saw friends of my daughter, Melissa" a student at Stanford, she said: basically good kids.

By March 2005, however, when a sleepy Zuckerberg, returning from a ski trip in his new SUV, ran over the next-door-neighbor's sprinkler head, setting off a gusher of water at 3 a.m., it was time to move.

Besides, the servers, with 2.5 million members busily making status updates, were at capacity.

"We parted as friends," she said. 

She returned about $900 of the $10,000 security check, she said, once the paintball splatters and other work was finished. The home is rented to its third tenants, a family whose college-aged daugher likes to believe that the faint footprint on the wall above the stairs leading to the garage is Zuckerberg's.

When Fusco saw the 2010 movie, "The Social Network," she was distressed, mad that the people she knew were not really like the movie, she said. Her friends and family urged her to write a book about the side she saw.

"I have nothing but good wishes for them. They are hardworking kids, they study and do well. That's what I love about them."

She's happy. She was waiting for the IPO.

"I bought 500 shares this morning at the price I wanted," she said. "I'll buy 500 more if I can."

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