Publication Date: Wednesday Apr 15, 1998
A grand rebirth of doctor's houseAfter years of excessive process and controversy, the Williams house finally opens this week as the permanent home of the Museum of American Heritage
It took seven years, dozens of City Council meetings and the work of many determined volunteers who refused to give up, but when the Museum of American Heritage formally opens its doors and gardens to the public this Sunday it will not disappoint.
The museum itself dates back to 1985, when founder Frank Livermore, a retired Palo Alto accountant and history buff, used his own funds to open it on the site of a former BMW dealership on Alma Street. He dedicated the museum to celebrating "mankind's technical ingenuity in the past as an inspiration for the future."
Since then countless local people have rallied to help Livermore accomplish his dream of finding a permanent location, and in 1994 the Palo Alto City Council agreed to lease the old Williams house for a dollar a year if the museum financed the necessary rehabilitation.
The Williams house and gardens, both in disrepair, had been bequeathed to the city by the daughter of the late Dr. Thomas M. Williams, one of the founders of the Palo Alto Medical Clinic. The 1907 home, located at 351 Homer St., initially seemed too small and constraining to house museum exhibits, but Livermore, director Beverly Nelson and architect Joe Ehrlich saw its potential and persevered through a particularly convoluted and prolonged city process.
Finally, in its third attempt to select a group to occupy the home, the City Council chose the museum over a proposal by the Pacific Art League. Renovation started almost a year ago after a fund-raising campaign raised the necessary half million dollars, almost double what had been initially estimated.
Visitors to the museum get a twofer--a look at Dr. Williams' original office and examining room, complete with medical instruments of the early 1900s, plus a fascinating array of semipermanent exhibits of electrical and mechanical devices from the past century. In addition, rotating new exhibits will change every three or four months. The opening exhibit is of toys and trains, including the collection of the late Tad Cody, a Palo Alto architect.
The museum has added a print shop in the back, featuring a working printing press and a Linotype machine donated by the now-defunct Slonaker's Printing, and built an education center named after Livermore for classes, workshops and lectures.
Operated completely by volunteers, the museum and gardens will normally be open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The grand opening is between those same hours this Sunday.
Dr. Williams and his family would surely be proud of what has been accomplished with this ambitious project, and Palo Altans have another valued cultural resource to call their own.