History museum may seek corporate tenants | June 22, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 22, 2012

History museum may seek corporate tenants

Palo Alto mulls allowing for-profit institutions to lease space in historic Roth Building

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's drive to turn the famous Roth Building on Homer Avenue into a history museum has a considerable history of its own.

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Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 20, 2012 at 8:53 am

This enterprise is going to have financial problems, given that Palo Alto was mostly farm land during its history, and has little to offer that is truly "historic", relative to the East Coast, or to the 4,000-6,000 years of "history" in the great centers of urban activity around the world. Without Stanford and the rise of the technology industry, there really isn't much history that can be found here.

With a technology museum in Mountain View, it's difficult to envision the operators of this site being able to create a museum that will attract people from all over the world, so that it will be self-sustaining.

They could seek to partner with organizations like Stanford, SLAC, and NASA Ames, Xerox, and other companies that have had a presence here in Palo Alto, at one time, or another. That vision does not seem to have taken hold here, although it could.

It's hard to believe that Palo Alto is large enough, and historically significant enough to be able to support this museum. It's a real fear for most taxpayers that our hard-earned dollars will sooner-than-later be used to subsidize the operations, or capital expenditures, need to keep the doors of this facility open.

Therefore, it makes sense to allow them to seek funding where they can. Leasing space to corporate clients is one way for them to easily acquire funding. Client selection might be controversial in this town, that has been openly anti-corporate in its public views and postures. As long as the corporate tenants don't generate a lot of traffic, or other disruptions, this appears to be one way for this organization to survive for a few years until the value of a history museum in Palo Alto can be established.

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Posted by JLC
a resident of University South
on Jun 20, 2012 at 10:28 am

(There may be some confused readers out there who may vaguely be aware of the relatively popular Museum of American Heritage, also on Homer but across the street.)

A local history museum is a great idea, but it's primarily a museum for local residents maintained by local residents. Local residents will need to pay for it themselves, either through local charitable contributions or tax revenue. Maintaining a museum in a location with very high value as real estate may be an impediment to the museum's goals in the long-term.

It makes a lot of sense to seek a revenue stream for the site separate from the PAHM. This building is also across a street from a large new commercial building also on Homer. A special zoning designation to allow commercial use seems reasonable. (But this brings the discussion back to issues involving non-residential parking near residential homes.)

In my opinion, anything would be an improvement over the current state of the building. I've lived in this neighborhood for several years, and it comes across as a minor eyesore given its current condition.

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Posted by History Major
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 20, 2012 at 10:57 am

When Steve Jobs passed away (RIP), I hoped we might soon be hearing that the Jobs family had generously donated some of his personal effects, along with a check to spruce up the Roth Building (just enough to nicely display them and various other local artifacts of the early days of technology). Instead, it seems that our community leaders have more grandiose plans in mind for the Palo Alto History Museum -- perhaps more akin to the Smithsonian Institute than a local history museum usually found in a town our size.

Six-plus million dollars? What for? Isn't one white elephant (the massively overbuilt Main Library) enough?

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Posted by JLC
a resident of University South
on Jun 20, 2012 at 11:17 am

@HM - I'm curious about what all that money is for too.

@Gennady - The article mentioned a business plan submitted to the City on Tuesday. Do you know if the business plan is posted somewhere online? Thanks!

Like this comment
Posted by to History Major
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2012 at 11:25 am

The massively overbuilt library (aka childcare location) is the Mitchell Park branch, not Main.

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Posted by Maria
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 20, 2012 at 12:13 pm

What "massively overbuilt main library" are we talking about? There hasn't been any improvement/building on the Main Library on Road in ages. Are you confusing it with the Mitchell Park one on Middlefield?

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Posted by History Major
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 20, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Thanks to THM and Maria for the correct reference to the Mitchell Park location! As best as I can tell from the drawings, the Main Library renovation is at a entirely appropriate and gracious scale -- I'm looking forward to its completion. It would nice if the designers of the Palo Alto History Museum took the same approach.

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Posted by Tom
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 20, 2012 at 1:25 pm

It's very difficult to attract investors to a vague pie in the sky vision.

The Palo Alto History Museum needs to open as a museum -- somewhere, anywhere, even peripatetically -- and demonstrate its value to the community beyond being a rehab project for a decrepit old city building. Had it done that in the beginning I bet it would be putting the final coat of paint on its permanent home this year.

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Posted by PAHM Supporter
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 20, 2012 at 4:25 pm

The History Museum project is actually a pretty modest project, on par with what the Main Library renovation is going to be. Unfortunately, the restoring and basic improving of the museum requires work that is quite costly. It is by no means a fancy project, but construction costs are high these days, and they are shooting for LEED certification, which also brings the cost up. Anyway - it's going to be a great project with a very appropriate use of that building, and anyone criticizing here simply isn't familiar with the plans.

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Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2012 at 4:42 pm

My prediction:

5 years from now, the History Museum will finally open. In the old Downtown Post Office building.

In the mean time, the City will buy the old post office, and it will sit vacant, deteriorating, and become a haven for bums.

After the History Museum moves in, the decrepit, structurally unsound Roth building will be demolished and the space added to the adjacent park.

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Posted by moi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Please, not a restaurant.

Also, is this going to turn into another Squire House? City/tax/grant/charitable funds to rehabilitate the property, then some private entity makes a financial killing?

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Posted by lazlo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 21, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Sell all city amenities to the highest corporate bidder is the new city charter the city manager and city council are promoting. While all city services are being cut, the city manager continues to receive a $500,000 pay and benefit package. Where is our taxpayer "reserve" dollars being spent? The city manager continues to promote cuts in police, fire, animal services, etc. meanwhile, his city management staff salaries have increased 500% in three years. Perhaps it is time for a change in city management and city council who continue to sell out city services.

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