Mountain View Voice

News - January 20, 2012

City museum plan is history

by Daniel DeBolt

City officials have received a letter from the Mountain View Historical Association that axes the city's plans to put a history museum in the back of the Cuesta Annex.

Citing fundraising difficulties, the MVHA has ended an agreement with the city that required it to meet certain fundraising milestones for a museum. Its location was controversial: the rear portion of the 12-acre Cuesta Annex, an undeveloped piece of open space next to Cuesta Park that many would like to remain untouched.

"It doesn't mean we won't continue to look at a way to put together a museum in the future or maybe finding a building that can be changed into a museum," said Pat Figueroa, former mayor and MVHA president.

The announcement was met with cheers from the audience at Tuesday's City Council meeting, which was packed with people speaking on behalf of preserving the Cuesta Annex from plans to build a flood basin there.

"I'm disappointed," said council member Tom Means. "It would have been nice to have a history museum. Each town in the area has done one. It's nice to have something in your town that reflects where you came from."

In the letter, Figueroa said the move was spurred by the council's decision in October to not allow developer Roger Burnell to move the 1880s-era Pearson house on Villa Street to the museum site and restore it on his own dime. The value of the house, as well as funds that had been arranged to cover its operation, would have met the MVHA's first fundraising goal, along with a "significant match donation towards a primary museum," Figueroa said.

Council members, almost all of whom are members of the Historical Association, cited community opposition to the Pearson house plan and lack of community support in their decision. That was despite the "win-win-win" nature of the plan, as Burnell described it, to preserve one of the city's oldest homes, allow him to develop a 20,000-square-foot office building on the "blighted" site where the house now sits at 902 Villa St. and provide the History Association with a restored house to go with its museum.

"I did not hear from the community that they wanted this house there," said council member Laura Macias, explaining her vote against the proposal in the closed session meeting.

Council members also predicted that the museum plan would suffer as a result of their decision, with council member Inks noting that the MVHA was "kind of in a bind" in meeting its fundraising goal.

"It is certainly not unusual for a historical association to want to find a location in which to preserve historical items," Figueroa said, adding that it's been a goal of the Association for decades. "In our case we've been very fortunate to have the Pioneer room at the library. So we haven't had to make it as urgent as other cities might have."

As for what's next, Figueroa said the MVHA only meets quarterly and hasn't decided. "We haven't taken the time to really reflect what the next step is going to be. There is no need to rush into anything at this point in time."

In the meantime, the MVHA runs the city history room in the Mountain View library and continues to receive donated historical items for a future museum, mostly stored in a large shipping container. The MVHA has also launched a Facebook page, facebook.com/MVHistory. Users can find historical photos regularly posted and discussed.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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