UC Berkeley will now preside over the Judah L. Magnes Museum’s nearly
unrivaled collections representing the cultural history of Jews in the
West, according to an agreement announced Monday.
Kept under one roof since the Magnes Museum’s founding in 1961, the art
and history collections, around 10,000 items in all, will be divided among
several venues as they come under the university’s custodianship over the
Gifts that will amount to $2.5 million over five years from the Koret
Foundation and philanthropists Warren Hellman and Tad Taube will
facilitate the transfer of the museum’s holdings, which following their
relocation will be known as the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life
at the Bancroft Library. Anticipating popular usage, the remade museum
will go by “The Magnes.”
Alla Efimova, the Magnes’ director and chief curator, will retain her
present title and duties in the transformed institution. Those duties
include collection growth, a program of special exhibitions and a rotating
display of objects from the Magnes’ permanent collection.
“It will be like open, visible storage,” Efimova said of the collection’s
future deployment. “There will be a lot more on view at all times than
The Bancroft Library will house the Magnes’ Western Jewish History
Archives: letters, photographs, diaries and other records of Jewish
settlement in the West. Sheet music and musical manuscripts will go to the
Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library. Paintings, sculpture, prints and ritual
objects will find a home in a building the Magnes already owns at 2121
Allston Way in downtown Berkeley.
The Magnes’ board had the foresight to acquire the downtown building in
1997, with an eye to an eventual move, and has rented it to the university
for the past several years.
The Magnes’ original quarters, an 8,600-square-foot residential property
at 2911 Russell St. in Berkeley, went on the market in late April, listed
at $2.75 million. Proceeds from the sale will go toward renovation of the
Allston Way building and the Magnes’ projected annual operating budget of
Peter Pfau of Pfau Long Architecture in San Francisco has been
commissioned to convert the Allston Way building, a former printing plant,
to museum use at an estimated cost of $3 million. (Pfau Long’s most
visible recent project is the SPUR Center on Mission Street in downtown
Thanks to museum benefactors, part of the funding is already in place, and
a campaign to raise the remainder will be announced soon.
“The Magnes Museum will become a supporting organization of the Magnes
Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the Bancroft Library,” Efimova said.
In 2001, the Magnes Museum and the Jewish Museum San Francisco – now known
as the Contemporary Jewish Museum – entered fraught bargaining for a
merger that might have benefited both institutions, which had found
themselves vying for support from the same donors. After more than a year,
negotiations definitively broke down.
In hiring Pfau Long and partnering with UC Berkeley, the Magnes takes a
completely different path from the CJM, which now occupies an eye-catching
hybrid building in downtown San Francisco: a Daniel Libeskind blue steel
rhomboid wedded to a historic Willis Polk facade.
But the Magnes’ partnership and relocation will insure a long-sought gain
in visibility for its public programs and broaden researchers’ access to
its distinctive resources.
Copyright 2010 SF Chronicle