News

Plan to replace Junior Museum and Zoo scores victory

Architectural Review Board votes to support project

The new Junior Museum and Zoo, which the Architectural Review Board approved on Sept. 21, 2017, will include a "Jurassic Garden Courtyard." Rendering by CAW Architects.

An effort to demolish and replace the beloved Junior Museum and Zoo on Middlefield Road overcame its biggest obstacle Thursday, when Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board voted to approve the project.

By a 4-0 vote, with board member Wynne Furth absent, the previously skeptical board gave the project the green light, paving the way for a final approval by the City Council in November. The endorsement came after several "preliminary" hearings and a formal hearing in Aug. 3. At that meeting, board members raised concerns about the building's compatibility with the surrounding area, particularly the nearby residential neighborhoods, and the massing along Middlefield.

In response, Brent McClure, architect with Cody Anderson Wasney Architects, submitted new plans showing lighter materials, additional eaves on the building's exterior walls and greater contrast between the roof and the building's wood siding.

Though the board's decision isn't the final approval, in many ways it's the most critical. The council has overwhelmingly supported the project, which is funded through private donations after a successful campaign by Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo. The group raised about $10 million from the community, making the project eligible for a $15 million matching grant from the Peery family.

The project calls for demolishing the 1941 building at 1451 Middlefield Road and constructing a modern facility that will include classrooms, additional exhibits, enclosures for popular residents such as bobcats and meerkats and a "loose in the zoo" area where visitors can mingle with birds and small mammals.

The new Junior Museum is part of a broader wave of changes in the Rinconada Park area. The city recently renovated the Palo Alto Art Center and reconstructed the Rinconada Library (formerly known as the Main Library). Officials are also in the process of putting together a new master plan for Rinconada Park, which will likely include new recreational amenities, wayfinding signs and a road reconfiguration.

But while the museum project has enjoyed broad support from local boards, commissioners and council members, members of the Architectural Review Board have been continuously pushing for design revisions that would make the project more respectful of its surroundings. On Thursday, the board agreed that the architect has responded to their feedback and voted to move the project forward.

Board member Peter Baltay, who has been particularly critical of prior designs, said the new building still has a "vague reminiscence" of an industrial building but conceded that the design has "moved in the right direction sufficiently." He noted that unlike the prior versions, the new design fits in well with the neighborhood.

His board colleagues, Robert Gooyer and Kyu Kim, agreed and both said the design has "come a long way." Board Chair Alex Lew went even further and said he can't wait to see construction commence.

"It's going to be very exciting," Lew said.

Related content:

• Behind the Headlines: Junior Museum and Zoo expansion

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Comments

28 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2017 at 2:52 pm

I think this is going to be such a shame for Palo Alto kids.

When our kids were young, we would go to the Childrens Library every week or so and included in the trip would be a walk around the museum and zoo. Occasionally we would take a couple of friends along too. We would put a couple of dollars in the offering bucket "to help feed the animals".

This latest improvement seems to put it out of weekly visits and seems to look more like a destination for school field trips and out of town visitors rather than neighborhood families.

Another charming, quaint, part of Palo Alto being developed into something very different from what it was originally intended to be.


21 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 26, 2017 at 3:22 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Perhaps the Weekly can do an in-depth report on exactly how many parking spaces will be lost due to this expansion and where the Community Center patrons and Walter Hays teachers and parents are supposed to park.

Neither the city planning official Amy French nor the ARB members have provided definitive answers to that question.


Like this comment
Posted by Gregory
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 26, 2017 at 7:42 pm

May the non-human animals in the cages be set free! Animals lives are their right.


14 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 27, 2017 at 7:58 am

DTN Paul is a registered user.

Yes, its a real shame for the kids that the museum will be improved with more exhibits so more kids can enjoy it. A real shame.


10 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2017 at 9:10 am

Walter Hays staff and parents are using the community center parking lot instead of the WH parking lot? This seems to be a school issue, not a community center issue.


2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 27, 2017 at 11:13 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@CP Dad, the question is where they *will* park after the expansion, not where they are currently parking.


10 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2017 at 12:25 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Given the new admission fees,($20 for one adult and two children), it is highly that the new exhibits will serve more children. I think the new museum will be more focussed on classes and will have little appeal as a museum, other than on weekends, when you might be able to spend enough time to justify the admission fee. Why couldn't they raise enough endowment money to continue the donation optional admission?

And no one has discussed the issue of parking access. I know - just charge for parking and that will be solved too. Oh - and I guess all those parents with toddlers who can afford the admission fees will happily take buses that have no car seats. It's not just the inconvenience but the safety issues. On the one hand, there is pressure for everyone to use car seats installed perfectly. On the other, the pressure is to take transportation without even seatbelts.

This new museum is aimed only at the 1% who have chauffeurs.


1 person likes this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2017 at 12:44 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Crescent Park Dad - School starts at ~8am, the zoo opens at 10am, if parents are using the parking lot to facilitate morning drop off, that's vastly preferable to backing up out into the street and blocking Middlefield, and has no negative impact on the zoo.


11 people like this
Posted by Jean
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 27, 2017 at 1:09 pm

I went to a recent review meeting held at the Jr. Museum because I had also heard a rumor that parking was going to be reduced. The answer is: NO REDUCTION, just some reconfiguration. I also found the new design to be delightful and imaginative, and I urge those who haven't looked at it to investigate further.


7 people like this
Posted by Ch-ch-changes
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2017 at 4:39 pm

The official number of parking spaces isn't supposed to change. But at really busy times (not just museum but events at Lucie Stern, etc.) right now people park in many "unofficial" parking spaces in this lot. Those will go away in the reconfiguration, so actual Maximum parking will certainly be reduced.


2 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 29, 2017 at 8:53 am

Many school staff use the parking lot for all day parking which takes valuable spots away from parents attending the museum. The parking lot is now unsafe for getting young children from the cars to the museum. The new lot arrangement will be much safer.
I understand there will be an inexpensive membership arrangement for frequent visitors so the admission charge situation should be considered less onerous.


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