COVID-19 Update: The Los Altos History Museum’s Collections Office and Reference Library are currently closed to the public in response to COVID19 safety guidelines. We thank you for your patience as our responses to research and artifact donations may be delayed at this time. For more information to general collections inquiries or image/film use/reproduction, please contact us at research@losaltoshistory.org.

Comprising over 16,000 objects, artworks and paper archives, the Los Altos History Museum Collection aims to gather and document stories and histories of individuals, groups and events in the region to educate the public and commemorate the diverse voices and identities that have shaped local history and community. 

Larry Nelson at Los Altos Pharmacy, Jan 1934.

Larry Nelson at Los Altos Pharmacy, Jan 1934.

Apricots drying in Santa Clara Valley, 1930-40.

Apricots drying in Santa Clara Valley, 1930-40.

With an emphasis on material culture and photographs from the early decades of the 20th century to present-day Silicon Valley, the Permanent and Education Collections brings to life the stories and histories of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View and adjoining areas (“Southern Peninsula”). Through the acquisition of artifacts, photographs, documents, oral histories, artworks, personal memorabilia and material culture, the Collection illuminates themes in greater Santa Clara County and Northern California’s regional histories.

The Collection is at the heart of the Museum’s mission. The Museum recognizes that the Collection represents the collective memory of inhabitants in this area, and that donating to the Collection is an important act that transforms personal or family heirlooms and memorabilia by integrating them into the holistic and shared narrative of all residents, past and future, of this area. Our responsibility is to curate a collection that accurately reflects the wide range of experiences so that the Collection as a whole presents a reliable record of the past.
Interested in becoming a volunteer in our Collections department? Visit Volunteer.
Clint’s Ice Cream, First St. Los Altos, Circa 1950s.

Clint’s Ice Cream, First St. Los Altos, Circa 1950s.

What's in our Collection today?

Objects (including artworks)

4645

Objects (including artworks)

Photographs (Photographs, photographs, photographs)

6368

Photographs

Archives (Print, Letter, Documents, Oral History & Newspapers)

4538

Archives

Library (Books, Manuscripts, Scrapbooks)

683

Library

Special Collections (COVID-19 & Other Collecting Initiatives)

53

Special Collections

Total Number of Objects

16287

Total Number of Objects

Our Collections

Photographs

From black and white prints to digital scans, the collection of photographs captures the life and people of Los Altos and the Southern Peninsula. Consisting of over 6,000+ images, this collection makes up the largest holdings of the Museum’s permanent collection. The collection is particularly rich in family photos, portraits of early pioneers of the local region, stills of natural landscapes, residential neighborhoods, streets, downtown areas, historic buildings and architecture. There are also photographs of community events and civic engagements in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View areas.

For conservation purposes, photographs are typically not kept on permanent display. The Museum may exhibit materials on short-term display in our changing gallery. Curated photographs are also featured in the Los Altos Town Crier’s weekly “Peek into the Past.” Learn more about our exhibits on view and how to donate to the collection.

Objects and Cultural Artifacts

The Museum oversees a collection of over 4,000 objects in order to document our past and preserve material culture. Material culture are those used by people at a specific time in history that define their everyday lives. Objects include everyday household items such as dishware, kitchen utensils, laundry washboards, children’s dolls and boardgames as well as large furniture items such as sewing machines, cameras, changing screens, musical instruments and appliances.

With a strong emphasis on agricultural tools and machinery, many objects from the Museum’s collections are on permanent display in the historic home of J. Gilbert Smith and the Agricultural Exhibit & Gardens. For conservation purposes, some delicate objects such as natural stones, geological specimens, lace textiles or quilts are housed for preservation in temperature and humidity-controlled storage.

Art

The Museum’s art collection encompasses over 300 works of art ranging from oil paintings on canvas to ceramic sculptures. The art collection captures the rich vibrancy of art and creativity of the community. The Collections Committee continues to expand and grow its holdings by working closely with local organizations, schools and art studios.

The goal of art collection is to preserve the artistic spirit of the local region. Most notably, the oil paintings of local painter Anna Knapp Fitz make up a sizeable portion of the art collection. The Museum is proud to preserve “Apricot Spring Blossoms in Los Altos Spring Time” by renowned Chinese painter Hou Beiren (Paul Hau), as well as framed watercolors in paper by local painter Stan Cohen.

For conservation purposes, certain artworks in the collection are kept in storage. Works of art may be exhibited for short-term display in our changing gallery. Learn more about our exhibits on view.

Documents, Manuscripts and Newspapers

The Museum’s paper archives consist of bound copies of The Los Altos Town Crier, personal letters, scrapbooks, unpublished and published manuscripts, journals, city records, meeting minutes of local organizations and other paper documents of the local region. Consisting of over 4,000 records of material in the collections database, the archives are available for public research.

In an effort to provide digital access to these text materials, the Museum launched the Museum without Walls initiative and we look forward to sharing the results with the community in the future. Currently, all materials are housed in on-site storage and can be accessed by making an appointment with a member of the Collections Committee or Museum Staff. For more information on how to make a research appointment, visit Research & Community Access.

Oral Histories and Digital Media

The Los Altos History Museum’s Oral History Program collects the stories and memoirs of local residents, community members and individuals who have made noteworthy and meaningful contributions to Los Altos communities and beyond. This collection of oral histories includes audio interviews from longtime residents about life in early Los Altos as well as contemporary video interviews with everyday people who continue to shape the town. The collection consists of other digital media files such as episodes of “Los Altos History Show.” Episodes are available to the public on our YouTube Learning Channel.

Oral histories can be accessed by making an appointment with a member of the Collections Committee or Museum Staff. For more information on how to make a research appointment, see Research & Community Access.