Town Square

Post a New Topic

History buffs face funding gap for new Palo Alto museum

Original post made on Mar 25, 2014

Palo Alto's history buffs and high-tech visionaries have no shortage of plans, dreams and ambitions when it comes to building a museum celebrating the city's rich history of innovation. They do, however, have a shortage of cash -- a big problem that has stymied the effort for several years and is now stumping city officials.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 9:35 AM

Comments (33)

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2014 at 10:50 am

Subsidizing special interest groups is not the function of local government, nor is it a good idea, in general. There are already too many special interest groups that have latched on to the City, and are draining financial resources out of the public treasury that should be used for City essential services, and infrastructure repair/refurbishment.

Moreover, Palo Alto's history is thin, at best. The idea that there is really enough history here to justify a museum is pushing prudent thinking, more than a little. This is something that should be financed with private money.

Let's hope the Council sees it that way.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hung Lo
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 25, 2014 at 11:05 am

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Mar 25, 2014 at 11:17 am

Support of the arts and history should be a part of civic engagement. Cities have long-supported such operations, not wholly, but in part. When you see how much the city blows on consultants, a loan on the Mabell property, leasehold for police stn. property, and more, I have no problem with some support for the history museum. Even very small towns have such things. If you don't think there is an interesting history to Palo Alto, you are missing a lot.

A word for the city: Participate.
A few words for History Museum: Find out how the PA Art Center did it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Good idea
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 25, 2014 at 11:21 am

The city pays over $1M for the Children's Theater each and every year, as well as providing the building, so we can't blame these folks for coming with their hands out as well. If the Children's Theater gets to live on the dole, I don't see why every other community resource should not also have a solid spot at the trough. On the other hand, maybe every community group should live off of fundraising instead of tax dollars - hey, there's an idea!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2014 at 11:35 am

> When you see how much the city blows on consultants, a loan on the
> Mabell property, leasehold for police stn. property, and more,

This is a fair point. Let's start with your telling us how much the city blows on the groups that you have listed? Can you do that?

We also need to ask: what is the City getting back for each of these subsidies for special interests .. which extends to what will the City get back for subsidizing this group? Oh, and once the spigot is turned on, will it ever be turned off again? It's hard to believe that this group won't be back looking for money for building repairs, and salaries for personnel to operate the museum.

As to the point that "other cities support museums" .. that might be true for very large cities, but how many cities the size of Palo Alto have museums that are supported by the taxpayers (even if only partially)?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2014 at 12:28 pm

How much of their budget is used for that ultra expensive location in downtown Palo Alto? They should move the museum to a cheaper location in southern Palo Alto. That would also make it accessible to more families in a part of town with few cultural opportunities.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2014 at 12:58 pm

The City subsidized local developers with bonuses and parking exemptions,
design exceptions, to jump-start Downtown development, an announced civic objective, and then continued these developer subsidies on a grand scale as outright giveaways despite obvious and growing negative impacts associated with the over-development, imposing economic, social,quality of life, environmental costs on the residents. The money spent on consultants is uncapped, much of it directly or indirectly in support of more development in another form of subsidy to the same developers. Now, while nobody questions the need to proceed carefully, the City Council becomes frugal and budget conscious regarding a History Museum. Anybody on the City Council who does not understand and appreciate the historical role of Palo Alto should just plead ignorance and defer to everybody else who understands this. A History Museum is not a special interest. This whole discussion just underscores how the City has completely gone off track in the last at least ten years.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 25, 2014 at 1:01 pm

The Roth building is rotten and beyond repair for a reasonable cost. The $7,000,000 to repair it is ten years old and costs have skyrocketed since. How about a vote of the people - city contribute to this restoration and museum or make the park much larger for a fraction of the cost?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2014 at 1:28 pm

> How much of their budget is used for that ultra expensive location in downtown Palo Alto? They should move the museum to a cheaper location in southern Palo Alto.

Well, not that south Palo Alto wouldn't be grateful to host something as wonderful as a museum, but the current location is historically significant. Homer Avenue has been dubbed "Palo Alto's Corridor of History" (see: Web Link). The Roth Building itself has the wonderful murals that have an intriguing history related to PAMF (see: Web Link). So, the site is very likely the best place for a museum in Palo Alto.

Mountain View has the very well presented Computer History Museum and has turned the site into a gathering place that recently hosted the Governor and Israeli Prime Minister. I can't remember if Mountain View contributed cash when it started, but they provided some kind of support if I remember correctly. The original Computer Museum was in Boston and moved here. So, smaller cities can and do support museums, even taking them away from larger cities.

Mr Keen states: "It's not like we have money sitting around that is just looking for some place to be spent." However, the City is willing to take over the airport from the County years before the lease ends. The City has hired an airport director, but the promised millions in revenue from the airport won't appear until 2037! Because of the County's legal troubles with the FAA, the City will likely need to loan millions to the airport supporting deferred maintenance of the aging facility until the FAA issue gets resolved. Councilman Klein was part of the airport working group, so calling the museum's fundraising "frankly not a good record" makes any reasonable person question his sanity.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Realist
a resident of University South
on Mar 25, 2014 at 1:37 pm

At first they needed 3 million, then 5 million, now 7 million - with much more needed after it gets going.
Clearly they've already had a VERY long time; funds raised have provided a salary for the employed.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Not one cent for this unneeded museum from the city. Not really much historic in Palo Alto, so not sure what a " history" museum would contain. Not surprised Holman likes the idea of giving them some money-- say the word " historic" to her and she goes " cuckoo for cocoa puffs".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 25, 2014 at 7:15 pm

The Roth Building was part of the original Palo Alto Medical Center and has its own history. Based on the location of the building it may be appropriate to carve out an area for a Palo Alto Information Center with maps, current notifications on art and theatre Exhibits, and other information of interest to tourists in the area.
There could also be a "Tea Room" with baked goodies, etc. If you go to Filoli having a minimal eating area is within the guidelines of modern museums. Of course the history museum will be of interest but is was concluded that they would not utilize the full space of the building.
I think a number of public and tourist interest elements can be incorporated into the site to make it a "go to" center.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2014 at 9:51 pm

Resident 1 comments speak to context, vision, ambiance, community,
character. This is exactly what is missing in Palo Alto government.
The Council/staff even in pursuing their single-purpose goal of economic
growth see it only on a project by project basis building as much square footage as possible on the developer's terms and conditions with every possible incentive given to the developer. A History Museum which actually promotes economic growth through tourism is outside their scope. For the developers, the Council and staff it's all about square footage baby.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Spending spree
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2014 at 1:29 am

The city manager is hiring hundreds of thousands worth of consultants, and PR people. I see no problem supporting the Museum. He's on a real spending spree. He has started something called Our Palo Alto who knows where he's going, we shall see. Maybe there really are people who like crowded schools, awful traffic, not enough parking, etc.

It seems he doesn't think all the voices online, in person, and in the papers reflect the "real" Palo Alto. So he's looking for them. The developers will support him on this. Maybe even his friend Arrillaga, who he tried to help, (27 University for example) though it didn't succeed.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 26, 2014 at 7:52 am

Not one cent of tax payers money should be spent on this dump. Save the murals and demolish the rest. Increase the size of the park.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 26, 2014 at 8:31 am

Neal - you live in an area that has amenities - not sure which community center but either one is both a park and meeting area for the community. All community centers are in the process of upgrade at this time. The city is already investing in buildings which enhance the community.

A Park needs a central interest focus - including bathrooms, being indoor in the rain or the evening, having a "Warming Shack" - in theory like the GGNP-Presidio is totally appropriate. Every Park has - and needs a focal point.
Given the location with many homes surrounding the park this is totally appropriate. Open Space without bathrooms is not appropriate or desirable.
This can be a highly desirable location for use on a daily basis and if staged correctly can be self-sustaining.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Research Guy
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 26, 2014 at 10:17 am

On the question of what other cities support a city themed museum, well, there are a lot.

Quick Google work finds the city museums of Los Altos, Los Gatos, Campbell, Alameda, Cupertino, Gilroy, and History San Jose all get yearly funding support from their respective cities. Although the amounts are not as large as the numbers being bandied about here.

I think the larger question is should/will the city of Palo Alto let a historic building be destroyed. They bought it with some goal of saving it (presumably). And the History Museum is proposing to fund most of the money to do just that. If the History Museum deal falls through, what is the fall back plan for the city with that building?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2014 at 11:30 am

A history museum is a natural and necessary response in a community which
understands and values its heritage and uniqueness. It's not a special interest exercise. The City's individuality is now being defined not by
a museum, but by the level of its failures. The City is becoming unrecognizable from impacts of uncontrolled growth and ugly streetscapes
with a City government which has no regard for the past, the present or the future it is creating.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 26, 2014 at 12:12 pm

The solution is very simple. The city owns the building, the city is obliged to make it safe to occupy. My understanding is that it needs substantial seismic retrofitting. That is a huge and unjustified outlay on a city-owned building for a museum to make.

So, let's start Googling. Here's what I found so far Web Link, in the city's own words: "In April 2000, the Palo Alto City Council approved the purchase of the Palo Alto Medical Clinic Building, now known as the Roth Building (named after one of the founding physicians of the clinic), and its 0.4-acre site for potential development as a public facility or alternative use if a public facility is not feasible, in conjunction with the South of Forest Avenue Coordinated Plan Phase I (SOFA CAP I). In acquiring the Roth Building, the City entered into a development agreement with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF), which required that the City complete the demolition of the non-historic wing additions to the south/rear facade of the building constructed in 1947. The purpose of the demolition was to provide for additional park space and a buffer of approximately 100 feet between the Roth Building and the multi-family residential development by Summerhill Homes to the south of the Roth Building."

So it seems the city bought this old building without having a definite purpose to have it. It is still boarded up. The city's only real accomplishment has been to demolish the rear of the building "to provide for additional park space and a buffer of approximately 100 feet between the Roth Building and the multi-family residential development by Summerhill Homes to the south of the Roth Building."

Bravo for the park space, but one wonders how the Summerhill project would have coped with having those blocky rear wings sitting a few feet from its high-end condos had the city not demolished them at city expense.

One therefore asks how much our city has spent to buy a building it neither needed nor had (or now has) any definite purpose for, and to demolish the major part of it to make way for Summerhill Homes' luxury housing.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Good Idea
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 26, 2014 at 12:16 pm

"On the question of what other cities support a city themed museum, well, there are a lot. ... Although the amounts are not as large as the numbers being bandied about here."

Exactly. The issue we run into isn't whether it's a good idea (sure, town history museum, good idea) but the size of dollars asked from the city to support. For instance, I wager we spend more per capita for Children's Theater than any town or city in the nation - probably by a fair distance. This project sounds similar. If a very wealth community can't see fit to support a project with private donations, it seems that either the project should be scaled back or that or given up for lack of interest. The city can be a nominal supporter here, sure, that's all. OTHERWISE, WHY SHOULDN'T EVERY COMMUNITY AMENITY/ORGANIZATION BE RICHLY SUPPORTED BY THE TAXPAYERS?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 26, 2014 at 12:26 pm

The City needs to spends resources on needs not wants.

@joe - it is interesting that you bring up the Computer Museum in Mountain View as an example, it was actually started at Digitial Equipment Corp in Maynard, MA as a private enterprise.

While I love the idea of a Palo Alto Museum, it is not something the City should be paying for except perhaps for the seismic upgrades to the building. Contributing the building on an amazingly valuable piece of land is enough. (I think the Children's Theater should be funded the same way, no $$ from the City, just the use of the building).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2014 at 2:31 pm

> "Mountain View has the very well presented Computer History Museum and has turned the site into a gathering place that recently hosted the Governor and Israeli Prime Minister."

True. There's also the Tech Museum in San Jose. So why do we need another one in Palo Alto?

I've been to some history museums in the area. Apart from a few special exhibits and Christmas fairs, they're not particularly interesting nor crowded.

Archives can – and should – be kept in the PA library system where there are already people who know how to catalog and care for them.

An "astonishing museum" for an "astonishing city" is pure hyperbole. And as a sales pitch, it obviously hasn't worked very well or the funding goals would already have been achieved. If "philanthropists have expressed great interest in supporting the project," why come begging at City Hall?

If the rotating views of the Roth building on the "virtual tour" is their best shot at getting people interested,I can see why no one's throwing money at them.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Great opportunity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2014 at 9:55 pm

curmudgeon,

Would you rather the site is sold to Mr. Arrillaga or the developer with the chip name? How about making this a new Hayes building. Maybe PACC is already entertaining an offer.

People, these are opportunities, not burdens!

I like what resident1 suggests

"I think a number of public and tourist interest elements can be incorporated into the site to make it a "go to" center."

It would be used by a lot more people than the Children's Theater.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Great opportunity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Wasn't the City looking to spend money on Youth?

Make it a fun place for PAUSD kids.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Great opportunity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2014 at 10:34 pm

sorry the developer name is not a chip, it's Chop

The City is being narrow minded about this. It sounds to me that the museum efforts so far have actually been very professional about reaching out to private money. You know in this area that can mean some very rich kids.

Other than Stanford directed largess, there appears to be no real recent history of philanthropists in Palo Alto. We talk about Lucie Stern as if it was yesterday.

Through a healthy and energetic relationship with this museum, the City could engage emerging philanthropists. Who knows, maybe somebody decides they also want to chip in for other projects. Instead of the same ole same ole connections with developers, what about connecting with people who are not just interested in the yield on square footage downtown.

If City participation can unleash this type of engagement, it can be of long term benefit.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 27, 2014 at 9:43 am

Our city council loves its "Destination Palo Alto" slogan. But only as a slogan. Now when our fair city has an opportunity to put its money where its mouth is, and invest in an actual Palo Alto destination, it's gonesville on the dais.

OK,suppose the History Museum effort doesn't make it. The city winds up with a decaying derelict building it shelled out $1.5M for, followed by roughly $250k to demo most of it, and with still no purpose for it, even if it were safe to occupy, which it apparently ain't.

Some enterprising journalist should investigate this boondoggle. I gotta wonder what money trail led to this particular fiasco.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2014 at 12:12 pm

> Other than Stanford directed largess, there appears to be no real
> recent history of philanthropists in Palo Alto

Ah .. Mark Zuckerberg recently made a grant of $500M (probably stock equivalents) to some umbrella organization in the Santa Clara county.

If memory serves, a private donor upped a million for the Children's Library rebuilt, and there have been several multi-million dollar gifts to the PAUSD for buildings, or facilities (like the new gym, the pool at Paly, and yesterday there was a story about some Google money going into the new jouralism arts building at one of the high schools.

Money often flows to worthy causes around town--but often the donors don't want the publicity, so their identities are not generally known.

Basic question about this endeavor is: is there any history here worth a museum to memorialize?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Great opportunity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Joe,

"Money often flows to worthy causes around town--but often the donors don't want the publicity, so their identities are not generally known."

It's more about what speaks to money. Gyms, schools, libraries are great causes. Some of these donations were through direct appeal, some were plain offered up, but philanthropist don't all have the same things that move them. They don't just magically appear with a donation, and it does not hurt to build bridges with a broad base of people.

Museums are not just tombstones. They are cultural centers, places to traffic ideas, and to draw people in for inspiration. I think Palo Alto has the right type of ecosystem to have an interesting cultural center of this kind.

To anyone associated with this, check with the Guggenheim, as they may have experience in doing museum outposts (like Bilbao). It's obvious this museum is not just about history, but the future.




 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2014 at 12:48 pm

> I think Palo Alto has the right type of ecosystem to
> have an interesting cultural center of this kind.

No one has ever suggested that this was a matter of "rights"—it's a matter of money, and who pays. By the way, "we the people" have authorized about 1 billion dollars for education and culture in this town—with the authorization of Measure A bonds (PAUSD), the Measure N bonds (Library/Civic Center) and the Art Center. So—please don't try to lecture us about what a museum is, or isn't. Palo Altans claim to be 75% (or better) college educated. So—it's a little difficult for those of us not impressed with this proposal to be accused of having no idea what "culture" is, or how museums are so central to the creation, and promotion of culture.

As to "inspiration" .. most museums are now on-line. Many have walking tours that offer the world access to history that goes back to the beginning of human time. Here in Palo Alto, there isn't that much that has happened here that can "inspire" future generations. But since you seem to be in a lecturing mood—why not school us all, and lay out your vision of a Palo Alto History Museum that will bring so much inspiration that it will change the course of human events. Can you do that?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 27, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Joe, the City could contribute to this worthwhile project in any number of ways. They've certainly found money for projects less worthy in the past that benefit fewer residents of Palo Alto.

It seems like you have an overwhelming number of objections, including:
You don't like physical museums because they can effectively be represented online.
You don't like the idea of a Palo Alto museum because there isn't anything here that can "inspire"
You believe funding for schools, libraries and the civic center is enough "culture"

Sorry, but if true, you really DO need a lecture about culture and history. Perhaps you could tell us a little about yourself and why you find this proposal so horrible? Your argument so far is difficult to follow.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Great opportunity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Joe from Another PA neighborhood

I'm with you, this is an issue of money. I have no idea where the "rights" you mentioned come in. This clearly does not fall into any rights category.

As a money issue, my point is that this is a great opportunity to leverage private philanthropy for something that can benefit the City very specifically (not just the school community or all of Santa Clara county), in a way that is new and different from the usual. The usual philanthropy these days is, I give you something if you give me even more in return, ie. the theater at 27 University. Or what about philanthropists just asking the City to give them something, like the Foothill land for $175,000.

Here we have a vision which can appeal to a broader base of philanthropists, and if we would be so lucky, it could generate a lot of value to the City for this and other potential initiatives.

As Joe from Barron Park points out, "the City could contribute to this worthwhile project in any number of ways. They've certainly found money for projects less worthy in the past that benefit fewer residents of Palo Alto."

The City engages in City philanthropy in many ways, and to the extent these proposals can generate private philanthropy (no strings attached), it makes sense to see the potential merits of a project like this. Klein pooh-poohing $3.5 million was kind of silly. For an inception phase, that's not bad at all.

What the City can do is make sure the project conforms to what the community would expect, a solid plan, well managed, and have a more open discussion about it with the community before making decisions.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 27, 2014 at 3:05 pm

I just went over to look at the building - the architecture is consistent with the surrounding buildings. There is a child playground next to it.
It looks funky because the windows are boarded up but otherwise it is a gem with a little bit of work. Maybe the folks that are working on the other two community centers can work this in since they are already on the job for the city.

You put a cute tea room in here along with a cute gift store and you will have a lot of people stopping in. Put in a visitor center - or "what is going on in the city" with the newspapers. Yes the history museum will be here but you need to get them in the door.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 30, 2014 at 8:27 pm

I was looking at the PA Home Page and it shows a PA Visitor Center at 400 Mitchell Lane. This is the area of the train depot. If this area is going to be developed then the visitor center could be moved to the Roth Building.
Visitor Center + Tea Room + History museum = good idea.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Local picks on 2015 Michelin Bib Gourmand list
By Elena Kadvany | 8 comments | 3,677 views

Politics: Empty appeals to "innovation"
By Douglas Moran | 13 comments | 1,564 views

A Surprise!
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 1,472 views

Marriage Underachievers
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,458 views

It's Dog-O-Ween this Saturday!
By Cathy Kirkman | 2 comments | 726 views