For Rich Green, the path toward a brighter future requires getting Palo Altans jazzed about the city's past.
Green, who serves as president of the Palo Alto History Museum's board of directors, is in the midst of a $20 million campaign to build a history museum downtown. He wants to see the building open in 2019 and to serve as the focal point of the city's celebration of Palo Alto's quasquicentennial (125th anniversary).
Laura Bajuk, the History Museum's executive director. Photo by Palo Alto Online.
The group's efforts have been accelerating in recent months. The nonprofit has raised about $5.7 million altogether for the building's rehabilitation, with $1.4 million coming from private donations and pledges and the remainder coming from the city and through a sale of "transferrable development rights" that brought in $2.9 million.
The goal is to create a world-class museum that celebrates the city's rich history and inspires how visitors think about the future (fittingly, the campaign has two slogans: "It happened here" and "Inspiring the future"). The refurbished 1932 building, formerly a home the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, will be equipped with galleries, interactive exhibits, a climate-controlled archive repository and a meeting room.
The museum would offer classes to local students and educate residents and visitors about everything from the Hewlett Packard garage where HP was founded to Birge Clark, the city's most prominent architect (and designer of the Roth Building).
But while these revenues, along with donations, helped move the project along, the rising construction costs have created a fresh obstacle. The construction project, originally pegged at about $6.2 million, now stands at about $9.2 million, according to a new report from the Administrative Services Department.
In addition to the construction work, the Palo Alto History Museum is working to add another $10.2 million to provide "a top-quality museum experience, adding state-of-the-art exhibits and collections and archive care, among other museum fittings," according to the report. Green told the Weekly that the History Museum has already raised $2 million for the future exhibits.
Though the fundraising campaign is nearly a decade old, it has evolved since 2014, when the museum board hired an executive director, Myron Freedman, to explore its strategic direction. Earlier this year, Freedman moved on to take charge of the Nevada State Museum and the board hired Laura Bajuk to take his spot.
Bajuk, a Palo Alto resident who worked in history museums in Los Altos and Los Gatos, told the Weekly in a May interview that the nonprofit's vision for the museum is to make it a gathering space filled with activity and interaction.
"It's a different way of thinking," Bajuk said in an interview on the Weekly's webcast, "Behind the Headlines." "The traditional model of a museum is a place that you come to and maybe you're told to stay quiet and not touch anything.
"That's not how museums want to function in their communities today."
But before the museum can realize that vision, it still has to clear a series of hurdles. On Monday night, the council will consider whether to extend the History Museum's lease option on the Roth Building for another year (the current lease option will expire on Dec. 31). It will then need the Architectural Review Board's approval for its landscaping plan and other minor design issues, according to a staff report.
Then there's the biggest obstacle of all: raising the needed cash. On that score, Green is optimistic. The organization, he said, is starting its corporate campaign and is just now reaching out to some of the major companies that were founded in Palo Alto. It is cultivating relationships within the community and is planning to launch fundraising events -- private parties hosted by notable residents -- in the coming months.
And museum officials were thrilled to see the residents turn up in great numbers in March to its screening of "Lesson Plan," a 2010 documentary about an experiment that a Cubberley High School teacher named Ron Jones conducted in 1967 at the now-defunct school. Known as "Third Wave," the project simulated the rise of fascism during World War II by creating an elite social movement for students.
The event, Bajuk told the Weekly, brought more audience members than the group had expected and filled the Cubberley theater to capacity,
History Museum officials hope this kind of excitement can translate to fundraising success in the months ahead. But if it doesn't, they have a contingency plan in place. Green told the Weekly that while $20 million would pay for the "museum of our dreams," the board is also considering a scaled-back approach.
"We can probably open doors and have functioning museum -- not all the exhibits and programs in place yet but something the community can start to enjoy -- for less than that amount," Green said.