Palo Alto Art Center Reborn
Peter Jon Shuler/KQED News
The Palo Alto Art Center is reopening its doors to the public this weekend after being shuttered for an 18 month renovation. The nearly $8 million makeover pays homage to the building’s 1950s vintage architecture, while creating a more professional exhibition space and more functional teaching facilities.
"It’s huge! It’s huge!" says Center Director Karen Kenzle. "Every single staff member, we’re constantly kind of pinching ourselves, we get to be part of this, and the community gets to be part of it. We’re all tremendously excited about Saturday, because that’s our chance to open our doors and let the community in".
The former Palo Alto City Hall was never built to be an art center, but for more than 40 years, the community made do with its imperfections – serving about 70,000 people a year with numerous exhibitions and art classes. Now, the old patchwork of linoleum and carpet has been removed to reveal the original cement flooring. A dropped ceiling has been taken out to expose the building’s joists and peaked rooflines - and allow for state-of-the-art exhibition lighting.
"There are wonderful areas throughout the facility where we’ve actually used what was existing," says Director Kenzle. "All of the brick you’ll see is existing brick. We have a wonderful architect on the project, Mark Cavagnero and Associates, and they actually have really honored the mid-century modern nature of this building. One of the things that Mark says about this building is that it’s like a ranch-style house, and he’s really honored that in the renovation."
The renovation was funded by a partnership between the city and private donors. Former City Councilman Bern Beecham is with the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation. He says this project has been more than a decade in the making.
"In a lot of things that are done, if you knew at the end how long it was going to take and how hard it was going to be, you wouldn’t have done it," says Beecham. "But happily we’re naïve and optimistic in so much of what we do. And so they started on a great project. And we’ve carried it through to a success today."
The refurbished Center’s first exhibition is called “Community Creates.” The center commissioned 10 Bay Area artists to work with community members to create unique, site-specific installations.