The History of Los Altos Street Names Explored in Museum Exhibit

By December 19, 2023Press Releases

LOS ALTOS, CA (Dec 19, 2023) — Street names narrate the history of a neighborhood, telling stories of its past, landmarks, and early residents. Unraveling this history has become a labor of love for two volunteers of Los Altos History Museum’s Collections Committee, and the topic of a new exhibit titled “What’s in a Name? History of Los Altos Street Names.”

 

On display in the J. Gilbert Smith House from January 11, 2024, to April 7, 2024, the exhibit is a collaborative effort led by dedicated volunteers Paul Kuckein and Gina Atkinson. Their excavation of the Museum’s archives, county subdivision records and US Census records has unearthed the origins of many Los Altos’ street names, shedding light on a lesser-known facet of the community’s legacy.

 

Paul Kuckein, having retired from a 50-year career in high tech, sought a new activity and was drawn to volunteer at the Museum on the Collections Committee. He brought with him a passion for uncovering the stories behind street names. Inspired by books like “Streets of San Francisco” and “Streets of Palo Alto” and based on Los Altos Hills Street Names Project, he envisioned a similar project for Los Altos, which sparked the idea for this exhibit. Upon completion of his project, he will self-publish his findings and present it to the Museum for the Collection.

 

Gina Atkinson met Paul at a Museum function. “I had heard about his project, and it sounded fascinating. In riding my bike around my neighborhood and other parts of Los Altos, I’d noticed some interesting street names and was curious about how they had come into being. Paul’s enthusiasm is infectious and I wanted to offer my assistance as a professional editor in bringing his vision to life.”

 

An ongoing project, the exhibit presents a fraction of the comprehensive research undertaken, and invites the community to participate in this endeavor. Residents will uncover the origins of their street names while also contributing to the ongoing research through a designated community corner, encouraging a collaborative exploration of history.

 

“There are over 500 distinct street names in Los Altos, and so far, we have found the history for one-third,” Paul explained. “The exhibit is a work in progress, and an opportunity to solicit community input.” Streets honor historical figures such as John C. Fremont, presidents such as Lincoln, early settlers, landowners, and European immigrants.

 

The exhibit features an array of artifacts including vintage Los Altos street signs, original maps of the area, and photographs of the streets mentioned. A pie chart visually breaks down street names into categories and types of names utilized, such as trees, cities, last names, and Spanish words.

 

Open to the public admission-free, the Museum welcomes visitors Thursdays through Sundays, from noon to 4pm. For further information, visit losaltoshistory.org/Streets.

 

Los Altos History Museum began in 1977 with the opening of the historic J. Gilbert Smith House, built in 1905 on 14+ acres of apricot orchards planted by Mr. Smith. In 2001, Los Altos History Museum opened the modern building next door, which houses the Museum’s collections, permanent and changing exhibitsstore and administrative offices. The Museum and its grounds are available for rent during evenings and weekends. Its collections are owned by the City of Los Altos and are managed by an independent nonprofit organization, whose staff and volunteers are responsible for all programs and operations.

 

The Museum is open Thursday through Sunday, from noon-4pm. Admission is free. Tours of the J. Gilbert Smith House are available during open hours. The outdoor agricultural exhibit, gardens and picnic area are accessible beyond Museum hours. For more information, visit: losaltoshistory.org, email hello@losaltoshistory.org, or phone 650.948.9427 x14.

 

Los Altos History Museum: Elisabeth I. Ward, 650.948.9427 x10, eward@losaltoshistory.org

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