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Return of the Wing

The museum reopens its historic core

By Ann Elliott Sherman

AFTER 2 1/2 YEARS of renovation, the Historic Wing of the San Jose Museum of Art has metamorphosed once again. The state and national landmark building designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke began as a post office in 1892; became the city's main library 45 years later; then was converted to the museum's predecessor, the Civic Art Gallery, in 1969. Happily, the hand-carved sandstone exterior of the Richardsonian Romanesque building--roundly welcome textural relief within a glassy sea of polished linear granite--remains intact. Inside, thoroughly contemporary white walls, track lighting and unadorned, squared columns accentuate the handsomely carved, original oak woodwork surrounding the gracefully arching windows and entry doors.

Entering from the museum's main lobby, one sees Oakland artist Alan Rath's motorized LED signs directing patrons to the new Caffe La Pastaia al Museo, Museum Store, galleries, restrooms, Kids Interactive Lab and the Charlotte Wendel Education Center located within the wing's 33,000 square feet. Visitors can taste wine or grab a cup of coffee, some light Tuscan fare and fresh-baked desserts at the caffe's undulating brushed steel-and-wood counter. Small, round green picnic tables, accompanying slatted chairs and Terrazzo tile floors lend a suitably casual Italian flavor. In the near future, outdoor seating will further the Mediterranean mood and allow for more intimate conversation than the sound-bouncing rotunda.

The wing's design emphasizes light and space in most every respect, save the closet-sized restrooms. The gallery--now showing California landscape paintings from the collection of retired SJSU professor W. Donald Head--more enclosed, slightly dim, and with lots of hardwood, has the feel of a study in a 19th-century estate well-suited to more traditional exhibitions.

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From the Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 1997 issue of Metro.

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