New Palo Alto History Museum announces campaign progress, building improvements

With a projected 2018 opening date, the board of the Palo Alto History Museum gathered supporters and community leaders on November 17 at the historic MacArthur Park to share progress on the project. Guests enjoyed a glimpse of a few of the hundreds of artifacts awaiting their new home, admired renderings depicting exhibitions of Palo Alto and Stanford stories, and reviewed updated plans for the new Museum. “A city this vibrant deserves a great museum,” said Steve Player, board member and the evening’s master of ceremonies, setting the tone for a stimulating evening.

The new Museum will be located in the historic Roth Building at 300 Homer, designed by renowned local architect Birge Clark. It was the birthplace of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation; supporters include PAMF and many of their “alumni” as well as the Clark family and friends. With PAMF in new quarters, their former downtown property has been redeveloped to include high density housing, a large green space perfect for outdoor programs, a children’s play park, and—soon—the Palo Alto History Museum.

“It will be a great place to gather people to celebrate our diverse heritage and share community,” adds board member Katie Seedman. “Palo Alto could use a peaceful, educational space like this where people can come together and see how every individual, whether here for generations or recently arrived, contributes to making this a special place.”

In addition to history museum essentials—archives, collections and exhibitions—the new Palo Alto History Museum will include community gathering spaces, from a salon-type gallery conducive to meeting friends to an Education Resource Room to a Community Room which will be available to local groups for programs and activities. Plus, a small café will provide refreshments. Special programs, inside and outside the museum, will be held throughout the year on history topics, issue forums, interactive educational fairs, as well as art, cultural and music events.

The Palo Alto Historic Resources Board and the Architectural Review Board both gave unanimous approval to revisions to architectural plans for the Roth Building. PAHM has contracted with Vance Brown, Inc. to rehabilitate the building and they have begun shepherding the project through the building permit process. “We are keeping much of the historic character of the building, including Dr. Esther Clark’s office, while allowing it to house state of the art exhibitions,” says PAHM Executive Director Myron Freedman. “The Museum experience,” adds Freedman, “will engage the visitor in stories of Palo Alto and Stanford as creative, forward-thinking communities that have changed the world and inspired the future.”

The largest gallery, Ely Heritage Hall, will be devoted to introducing the story of Palo Alto and Stanford. One entire wall will incorporate an interactive video installation where visitors can select from several thematic areas to watch short programs on key people, stories, and accomplishments that are part of Palo Alto’s history: the birth of Silicon Valley, tech innovations and Palo Alto’s global brand; a city and a university, excellence in education; the birth of the (Grateful) Dead and other cultural highlights.

The Museum’s east wing, which will include the Fazzino, Clark and Libby galleries, will continue to look into our community’s past, beginning with an amazing key artifact: a preserved wall section constructed in the 1840s from the now-demolished Juana Briones house. Utilizing its collections as well as the Palo Alto Historical Association (PAHA) archival collection, visitors will begin an in-depth journey encountering stories relevant to our community today: how it grew, town and gown, the focus on schools, caring for people, the successes of business and industry, political issues, social bonds, preserving the environment and the contributions of remarkable people and their many innovations.

“Special interactive exhibits will allow visitors to connect more deeply with the stories and to access archival images and videos,” adds Freedman, “such as the Bill Miller Archive featuring his show ‘Conversation Piece,’ a remarkable record of dozens of Palo Altans sharing their thoughts on our community.”

Repeat visits to the museum will feature something new to see. Two galleries will offer changing exhibits throughout the year, including in-depth stories on topics such as the Mayfield story, remarkable women of Palo Alto, parks and wild spaces, creation and impact of design thinking and the, etc. Exhibits like these will often be produced in partnership with other community groups and organizations, including cultural and art exhibits. PAHM will also be a stop for traveling exhibits of interest to the community, like those from SITES, the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibition program.

“The capital campaign is going well,” says board president Rich Green. “We’ve raised nearly $9 million since the project inception in donations, pledges, TDR and city funds,” says Green. “We’re getting close to the point where we can break ground. Our plans are approved, so it’s time to close that gap and start building!”

The Palo Alto History Museum is expected to open in 2018; construction may start next year. The first stage of fundraising—to rehabilitate the historic Roth Building—is well underway thanks to support from key community members. The next goals will complete development of the building as a state-of-the-art Museum, and provide operating funds to ensure a successful start. Naming opportunities are still available. Add your name to the list of founding supporters today!

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