Historic treasure of Jewish life and culture gifted to UC Berkeley

“One of the world’s preeminent collections of Jewish life, culture and history will have a new home at the University of California, Berkeley, starting this fall, campus officials and the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley announced today (Monday, June 21).

The 10,000-piece collection of precious music, art, rare books and historical archives – part of the Magnes Museum since its founding in 1961 – will be transferred to UC Berkeley over the summer. The collaboration will partner a world-class collection with a world-class university, complementing the school’s academic offerings, raising the profile of the Magnes collection, and making it more accessible to scholars …

The Magnes’ Western Jewish History Archives, the world’s largest collection of letters, diaries, photographs and other archival documents relating to the Jewish settlement of the West, will move into The Bancroft Library. Musical manuscripts and sheet music will be located at the Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library.” –

Berkeley Research Impact Initiative

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The Berkeley Research Impact Initiative (BRII) supports faculty members, post-docs, and graduate students who want to make their journal articles free to all readers immediately upon publication.

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Magnes Museum’s Judaica to Get New Homes at UC

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
ever before.”

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
$1 million.

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
San Francisco.)

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.

Kenneth Baker 
Copyright 2010 SF Chronicle