New Los Altos History Museum exhibit brings a modern twist to history


Courtesy Los Altos History Museum

The town section of the new exhibit is complete with a moving train diorama and multiple interactive screens with animated maps of the town. It is one of many sections at Los Altos History Museum’s new exhibition, opening this week, promising to add a modern touch to portrayals of Los Altos’s diverse history.

There’s only one place in Los Altos where visitors can find a moving train diorama, augmented reality and the recorded stories of over a dozen historical figures: the new exhibit of the Los Altos History Museum.

After over two years of planning and construction, the museum’s new permanent exhibition, “Making Connections: Stories From the Land,” will open to the public next Saturday, February 11. This exhibit uses modern technology to convey Los Altos’s history, combining small-town charm with the larger, tech-focused Bay Area. 

Unlike the museum’s previous exhibit, “Crown of the Peninsula,” which told the history of Los Altos chronologically, this exhibit groups stories by which part of the land they come from — the hills, creeks, valley and town. Each section has multiple screens, ranging from tablets to massive video walls, allowing visitors to scroll through expansive timelines of the stories of those who shaped the Los Altos community and beyond.

“Our intention in organizing the exhibition geographically is to underscore that we all share the same place, and it’s our collective responsibility to make it a community,” the museum’s Executive Director Dr. Elisabeth Ward said. “Our environment is a primary concern of younger generations, and we expect this exhibition to resonate with youth as well as adults.”

The hills section focuses on the thought leaders of Los Altos, as well as Los Altos Hills. The creeks pay tribute to the Ohlone people and honor the natural resources of the land. The valley shows the evolution of Silicon Valley and the growth of businesses in Los Altos. The town embraces how Los Altos grew from railroads and orchards into the town it is today.

But even among the flashy new technology and mesmerizing design, the museum has remained focused on its purpose: to tell the story of Los Altos and the people who built it.

“These were real people,” Public Relations & Marketing Chair Kristen Fuller said. “They were filled with innovative, creative ideas. The world was a different place then, but it’s like we’ve gotten to know them through uncovering this information and in delving and talking to people.” 

The exhibit aims to emphasize the untold stories of Los Altos, using a grant from Santa Clara County to assemble a Diversity Advisory Group of local leaders. The committee focused on recruiting representatives from communities such as the Ohlone, Latino and Asian-American communities to ensure that the exhibit would amplify their voices.

“The new exhibit is an excellent example of how community involvement in content and design can bring underrepresented histories out of the shadows,” Chair of the Diversity Advisory Group Dr. Perlita Dicochea said. “It’s a really groundbreaking approach and courageous to open up input to community members beyond Los Altos because it really helped highlight that Los Altos did not emerge in isolation.”

Curators explored extensive historical archives to piece together the photos, videos and artifacts in the exhibit. The transition to screens also gives docents the option to update the exhibit as they uncover more history. They hope that the wealth of information will compel people to return.

“With this particular exhibit, it’s the immersiveness to me,” Fuller said. “You become part of it, not just a person looking at it.”

Connecting the community is a significant goal for the new exhibit. The museum’s leaders wanted to create a space that would allow for conversation and be engaging for all ages. They hope that the focus on the environment and inclusion would resonate with younger students who may not be able to see their place in history.

“The title of the exhibition is ‘Making Connections,’ and so, like any good museum, it’s helping people find their connection to history,” exhibit designer Brianna Cutts of the Sibbett Group said. “The idea is that there’s a way to enter into the conversation.”