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Shifting politics boost Palo Alto's quest for a history museum

Original post made on Jun 18, 2021

Palo Alto is preparing to advance next week a project that local leaders have been debating for the past two decades: the rehabilitation of the Roth Building so that it can serve as the city's new history museum.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, June 17, 2021, 11:28 AM

Comments (29)

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2021 at 6:56 am

felix is a registered user.

Yes we need our history, Greg Tanaka. We require our children to study history all through our schools, yet you, Alison Cormack and the now thankfully irrelevant Liz Kniss have found this or that excuse for years to deprive Palo Altans access to learn more of their communal history well before any budget concerns.

That history isn’t just the low hanging fruit mentioned here - the Silicon Valley saga, etc. It’s the history of the everyday people that settled and did the work in this Valley of Hearts Delight in all their diversity - women and men and children.

It is a place to record and keep our own oral histories.

A place for exhibits on, say, cultural events that became touchstones, our notable architecture, and our more difficult history such as the loss of Japanese Palo Altan families imprisoned WW2.

Few know that a Chinese man, Thomas Foon Chew owned the 3rd largest cannery in the world here, that it had its own railroad spur and 19 employee homes. That cannery is now the Frys building.

We need our history museum now. Get it done Council and staff without more delay.


Posted by Illya Petrovsky
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 18, 2021 at 9:11 am

Illya Petrovsky is a registered user.

A Palo Alto History Museum would be better served by demolishing that rat-infested, decaying old Roth Building and starting anew with a modern 21st century architectural design.

And a serious historical museum is no venue for exhibiting a mechanical gorilla from a former dive bar either.


Posted by Andrew Boone
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2021 at 11:15 am

Andrew Boone is a registered user.

Long overdue. It would’ve been easy to fund the rehabilitation of the history museum building if the Palo Alto City Council hadn’t blown $37 million on a new car parking garage right next to the California Avenue Caltrain Station. There is no fiscal crisis - just awful decisions like that one - increasing car traffic by building new car parking spaces for over $100,000 EACH. Stop wasting money promoting car driving and you’ll find the city has plenty of funds to invest in worthwhile projects like the history museum.


Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2021 at 2:19 pm

Sunshine is a registered user.

Boone and Felix have the right idea--this is a project whose time has come. Instead of discussing it to death, as is the Palo Alto way, we need to fund and establish the Palo Alto History Museum. There is much his tory here despite the fact that it is not as old as the history of other parts of the US. Palo Alto has history; we should celebrate it.


Posted by Ariel Fleming
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 19, 2021 at 9:54 am

Ariel Fleming is a registered user.

Palo Alto would not have become a noteworthy town had Leland Stanford built his university elsewhere.

There would have been no Stanford University EE Department and thus no former graduates like Hewlett and Packard starting a company in a Palo Alto garage. And subsequently no future Silicon Valley as many other early electronics pioneers and entrepreneurs also graduated from the Stanford EE program.

And there would have been no Dr. Shumway performing revolutionary heart transplants because there probably wouldn't have been a Stanford Hospital and various research facilities.

The full credit for Palo Alto's emergence belongs to Stanford University.

Without Stanford, the history of Palo Alto consists of an old worn-down tree, the original Ohlone inhabitants, and Gaspar de Portola passing through on his way to Menlo Park.


Posted by Amanda Garner
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 19, 2021 at 2:09 pm

Amanda Garner is a registered user.

Nothing much was going on in Palo Alto until the university was built.

Mayfield was a bustling town and refused to go 'dry' as Leland Stanford had mandated for a college community.

As a result, Palo Alto got in through 'the back door' and the rest is history.

And PA folks wound up going down to Whiskey Gulch in unincorporated EPA for their booze.

Curious if Leland was anti-marijuana as well...probably so.


Posted by Laurian Decker
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 19, 2021 at 3:19 pm

Laurian Decker is a registered user.

Palo Alto owes far more to Stanford University than Stanford University owes Palo Alto and yet countless PA residents cannot comprehend this seemingly simple observation.

Without Stanford University, Palo Alto would be just another midpeninsula bedroom community with nothing much going for it...similar to other nondescript residential communities.


Posted by PA Community Advocate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2021 at 7:36 pm

PA Community Advocate is a registered user.

Excited to have a museum to celebrate Palo Alto and its rich history.

HOWEVER…

If community resources and our tax dollars are going to this museum is it going to be free for Palo Alto residents?

Or is this going to end like the Children’s Zoo where there’s an exclusionary entrance fee and the only winners are corrupt bureaucrats and developers?


Posted by Wesley James
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 19, 2021 at 7:43 pm

Wesley James is a registered user.

If the museum is free to only Palo Alto residents, another Foothills Park debacle could ensue.

Perhaps best to charge a nominal fee reflective of the quality of the exhibits and overhead costs.

Curious...what kind of city-specific exhibits would excite and entice people to visit Palo Alto and the museum?

Can't think of anything.


Posted by PA Community Advocate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2021 at 7:49 pm

PA Community Advocate is a registered user.

W James - The Foothills Park debacle wasn’t about price. It was about not letting the ultra-wealthy in Los Alto Hills and Portola Valley enter the park from an entrance that they refused to help fund.

Now the Palo Alto community is funding their parking spots. It should still be free for Palo Alto residents. It’s insane.


Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 19, 2021 at 9:33 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"Without Stanford University, Palo Alto would be just another midpeninsula bedroom community with nothing much going for it...similar to other nondescript residential communities."

It's symbiotic. Without Palo Alto at its gate, Stanford would still be a quiet, respected regional college


Posted by Parker Whitcomb
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 20, 2021 at 9:31 am

Parker Whitcomb is a registered user.

"It's symbiotic. Without Palo Alto at its gate, Stanford would still be a quiet, respected regional college."

Agreed as Palo Alto is far from being a small college town and Stanford is far from being a quiet, respected regional college.

They both got too big for their britches.


Posted by Geraldine Pfister
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 20, 2021 at 10:12 am

Geraldine Pfister is a registered user.

What would a Palo Alto History Museum display to make it interesting not only to residents but to outside visitors as well?

A salute to Silicon Valley, Stanford University, and a mechanical gorilla?

The museum might need to rely on Mayfield's history for any pre-Silicon Valley relevance as Stanford can easily hold its own.

Will there be any Ohlone artifacts including shell mound replications and tule huts + full Spanish explorer armor outfits on display with accompanying lances and swords?

And will there be any references to the pre-statehood Mexican occupation and the various local land grants with scale models of adobe dwellings and rancho-related tools?

Or will it simply promote a gorilla and a transistor radio?


Posted by Beppo Becera
a resident of Los Altos
on Jun 20, 2021 at 11:49 am

Beppo Becera is a registered user.

Other than occasionally meeting up with friends/relatives, going to the dentist, wasting time/money at Stanford Shopping Center, or attending school I can't imagine anyone actually needing to visit Palo Alto, let alone a potentially uninteresting museum given free will and other more promising options.


Posted by Lucien Zabriski
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 20, 2021 at 1:20 pm

Lucien Zabriski is a registered user.

> "I can't imagine anyone actually needing to visit Palo Alto, let alone a potentially uninteresting museum given free will and other more promising options."

This is why and unlike most tourist destinations, the weekend hotel-motel rates are lower in Palo Alto during the weekends as compared to the weekdays.

The weekday lodging rates in Palo Alto are higher due to midweek business-related meetings and conferences.

Nobody in their right mind would bother to visit Palo Alto as a tourist unless they were either from Podunk or going to Stanford Shopping Center for an overpriced spending spree.

Palo Alto is hardly Carmel by the Sea or Fisherman's Wharf.


Posted by Jeremy Rocha
a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2021 at 7:41 pm

Jeremy Rocha is a registered user.

A pre-Silicon Valley museum theme would be far more interesting than a focal point on Palo Alto's high-tech sector over the past 70 years.

You see one semiconductor/chip display and you've pretty much seen them all.

Besides, most of the companies founded by the original movers and shakers have either been acquired, split-up or are now manufacturing their products elsewhere (as in overseas).


Posted by Chanterelle Williams
a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2021 at 7:50 pm

Chanterelle Williams is a registered user.

In addition to the various early days and the emergence of the semiconductor industry, will the museum also have a section devoted to the contributions of African Americans in Palo Alto?

Or will it be primarily focused on the white man's technological inventions?


Posted by Phil Carmody
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 22, 2021 at 8:55 am

Phil Carmody is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Cameron Rivers
a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2021 at 10:05 am

Cameron Rivers is a registered user.

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2021 at 1:47 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

The tiny mining and ski resort community town of Fernie, BC in Canada (population @5,000) has a history museum. How pathetic are we, the center of the Silicon Valley revolution, our history spans amazing transformations from an agricultural and summer vacation community of little cottages to the bedroom community of a world class university and a hotbed of innovation. So many people of all genders, ethnicities and ages led bits of the journey from there to here. Stories that are not regularly shared with community get lost. Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat mistakes of the past. These tropes are true. Maybe we should take a page out of little Fernie's book.


Posted by Real World Palo Alto
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 25, 2021 at 10:08 am

Real World Palo Alto is a registered user.

Curious...what makes Palo Alto history so noteworthy?

Excluding its adjacent proximity and past relationship with the founding of Stanford University, what are the remaining highlights that will fascinate visitors?

Hewlett-Packard, Varian Associates, Watkins-Johnson, The Fish Market, Town & Country Village, an annual chili cook-off, and an old tree that has seen better days?

Even the Barron Park donkeys cannot carry the burden of generating any further excitement.


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 25, 2021 at 10:55 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Yeah - note the location is at a park next to a children's play area. Like the cafe at Mitchell Park a place to have a cozy cup of coffee and a sandwich, a place to get come local maps, and walk through to see some local articts work - which is currently displayed at Lucie Stern in the hallways. Yes - we do have local articts who can display their works. Walk through the lower hallway of the PAMC - lots of pictures of PA way back when. Another school that is now gone replaced by a soccer field at ECR and Oregon - Mayfield School. Lots of pictures of life back then - the barber shop, the markets, a real touch of CA history.


Posted by Jeffrey Jones
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2021 at 9:24 am

Jeffrey Jones is a registered user.

The history of pre-annexation Mayfield is not Palo Alto's history.


Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 26, 2021 at 4:32 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

The history of pre-annexation Mayfield is not Palo Alto's history.

Yes it is. Very fundamentally so. Leland Stanford wanted a dry town fronting his University. Mayfield chose to remain a profitable destination for sinners. So Stanford had his buddy Timothy Hopkins create the town of University Park, which became Palo Alto and which ultimately absorbed Mayfield.

The need for a history museum is clear and pressing.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 26, 2021 at 4:58 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Palo Alto and Stanford professors and students had an interesting cameo role in the holding a corrupt local judge and police chief accountable when they tried to let go white slavers who'd been imprisoning and abusing Asian women. Fascinating book. Web Link


Posted by Jon Parsons
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 26, 2021 at 6:09 pm

Jon Parsons is a registered user.

I doubt this is the time for a "history" museum, as I fear it will be another political statement that reflects our fevered point in time. Better wait for a calmer more encompassing vision to articulate a more accurate remembrance of things past.


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 27, 2021 at 8:52 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Jon - yes it is. A place for warming, a cup of coffee/tea and a sweet, and back to NORMAL. Look at local art, relax, and just sit and watch the children who are playing outside. They will come in for a sweet bite. Look at the pictures of the city as it grew up. Time to decompress.


Posted by Lauren Costanza
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 29, 2021 at 9:03 am

Lauren Costanza is a registered user.

Having resided in Palo Alto for most of my adolescent and adult life, I do not find it all that interesting or of any major historical significance.

Palo Alto is just another former bedroom community adjacent to Stanford University currently undergoing development-related growing pains.

Palo Alto has lost its earlier small town vibe and we will be relocating to Hawaii shortly upon the sale of our ridiculously overvalued & overpriced home.

The newbies and NIMBYs can now carry the torch to whatever ends they are seeking.


Posted by Orville Bentley
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 29, 2021 at 1:31 pm

Orville Bentley is a registered user.

A Palo Alto History museum would be remiss without a BMW exhibit, some designer handbags, and that mechanical gorilla from Antonio's Nut House.

What a thrill.


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