Midpeninsula Post

Los Altos History Museum reveals new exhibit showcasing the town’s history and diverse groups

The ribbon cutting ceremony at the exhibit’s opening. (Mike Zhao)

The Los Altos History Museum’s permanent exhibit, “Making Connections: Stories from the Land,” which opened in early February, highlights the history of Los Altos using new interactive touchscreens and artifacts. The exhibit also pays tribute to different cultural communities that have shaped the town’s history.

The exhibit is divided into four sections by location: creeks, hills, valleys and the town of Los Altos. The previous exhibit was organized chronologically.

“We’re taking people through journeys of place, which is a paradigm shift because history is chronologized,” project manager Julie Rose said.

The first section dives into the various creeks that are a part of the town’s history, including the Adobe and Permanente Creeks, the namesakes for companies Adobe Inc. and Kaiser Permanente, respectively; the section also showcases the ways that different groups used the creeks.

“The Ohlone thought of the land as a living thing to be cared for, whereas the Spanish thought of it as a vehicle for production when they [began] growing agriculture,” said Diane Holcomb, the museum’s director of communications. “And so the creek section really look[s] at the development of the creeks and the land.”

A museum visitor reads about the creeks during the exhibit’s opening. (Raj Virginkar)

The hills section of the exhibit communicates the historical significance of groups such as the Ohlone tribe, and how they saw the hills as an influential source of inspiration for the progress of Los Altos. Executive Director Elisabeth Ward said the hills were seen as the land of opportunity and progress.

The valley section takes viewers through Santa Clara’s transition from an agricultural environment to Silicon Valley, the global center for various tech companies such as Apple and Google that are prevalent today. The section begins with the valley’s first occupants, the Muwekma Ohlone tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Visitor exploring a touch screen in the valleys section. (Mike Zhao)

The last section focuses on the development of the town itself.

“The town is what started the museum and the influx of people,” said Jane Reed, a major contributing volunteer. “And so our [the volunteers’] part has been to do the research on the history of [Los Altos] and that’s what we’ve worked on.”

The exhibit utilizes large displays and touch screens to present history to visitors. The exhibit features three 65 inch touch screens and three 12 feet by 8 feet screens, which provide much more information than placards and posters would.

“The new digital technology enables visitors to explore the content in much greater breadth and depth than would otherwise be possible in the museum space,” said Edward Taft, one of the exhibit’s lead donors. “We expect this style of presentation to appeal to younger audiences who are accustomed to using digital technology.”

The exhibit also has an updated train display, a favorite of many visiting elementary school students from the old exhibit, according to Ward. The display is the only part of the previous exhibit included in the new exhibit. It features a model train that runs through a miniature replica of Downtown Los Altos in 1932 and iPads equipped with augmented reality technology for visitors to learn more about different aspects of the town.

Visitors gather around a tablet to try out the AR aspects of the display. (Raj Virginkar)

According to Ward, over a hundred volunteers were involved with the exhibit’s design and content curation. Members of the museum’s executive board decided to form a diversity advisory committee before building the exhibit to ensure accurate reflection of the diverse stories and groups within the Los Altos community.

“These untold histories are critical to understanding the dynamic growth of Santa Clara County, revealing the positive impacts many racial/ethnic individuals and groups have had on the cultural, economic, environmental and intellectual heart and soul of our diverse South Bay region,” Diversity Committee Chair Dr. Perlita Dicochea said in a press release.

The committee includes Los Altos residents from the Latino, Black and Asian American communities of Los Altos, according to Connie Young Yu, a member of the diversity committee.

“I always felt that there was some wonderful history of diversity and cultures that has not been brought to the public,” Yu said. “Being involved with the Los Altos History Museum is so important because the goal of the museum [is] really to talk about the history and the people who shaped it and not just what people see in the news, but the long history of diversity.”

The volunteers and contributors that worked on the exhibit hoped to share a descriptive, inclusive account of Los Altos’ history.

“There is a very clear vision that guides the work of the museum, that vision is about connecting us across cultures and across generations,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian said.

Monica Arellano, the tribal vice chairwoman for the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe said the exhibit honors and preserves the group’s heritage.

“It’s just so nice to be included and to have our story shared, and the visuals are just so awesome,” Arellano said. “To hear the recordings of our songs, our interviews, it just [means] so much to us to be able to tell our own story.”

Arellano said she worked with the museum staff to accurately and respectfully present the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe’s heritage.

“They [the museum staff] listen to us and they share stories exactly how we tell them and that’s real, that’s factual, so we appreciate that,” Arellano said.

Members of the Ohlone tribe presenting a traditional dance at the exhibit’s opening. (Raj Virginkar)

For longtime Los Altos resident Blaine Dzwonczyk, the new exhibit was just as exciting as when they first visited the museum as an elementary school student, they said.

“I am really excited to see the history of the native people of this region highlighted as a continuous part of our current reality, and a more in-depth … focus on [the] Ohlone people,” Dzwonczyk said.

Other members of the Los Altos community said that the new exhibit will positively impact the way the museum is viewed as a whole.

“This museum is an example of what our community is about,” Los Altos Mayor Sally Meadows said at the opening. “It’s about community, it’s about vision, and it’s about celebrating our successes. What the museum allows us to do is make connections with our history, our land and each other.”

For those who would like to view the museum’s past exhibits, “The Past Shapes the Future: A Retrospective” is on display in the Main Gallery, which is located on the first floor of the museum. The exhibit will remain up until May 28. This temporary gallery is filled with posters from past exhibits so visitors can learn more about them.

Two visitors look at posters from previous exhibits. (Mike Zhao)

The Los Altos History Museum is open on 51 S. San Antonio Road, Los Altos, from noon-4 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.

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