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Housed in San Jose's first federal building, a U.S. Post Office built of local sandstone in 1892, the San Jose Museum of Art fuses a National Register of Historic Places site with award-winning modern and contemporary art exhibits [1; 2]. With over 2,500 works in its permanent collection and nine to twelve temporary exhibits annually, the museum also offers arts education to over 40,000 school children annually in the Santa Clara Valley [2].


  • San Jose Museum of Art, housed in a historic post office building (image from Wikimedia Commons)
  • Historic photo of the building (image from the San Jose Museum of Art)
  • Historic marker on the art museum building (image from Historic Marker Database)
  • Modern view of the San Jose Art Museum (image from California Travel)

Housed in San Jose's first federal building, a U.S. Post Office built of local sandstone in 1892, the San Jose Museum of Art fuses a National Register of Historic Places site with award-winning modern and contemporary art exhibits [1; 2]. With over 2,500 works in its permanent collection and nine to twelve temporary exhibits annually, the museum also offers arts education to over 40,000 school children annually in the Santa Clara Valley [2]. 

History of the Site and Building

The Romanesque building with its original clock tower was designed by Willoughby Edbrooke and built in 1892 on the site of the A.M. Pico Adobe associated with the plaza of the Spanish Pueblo, later part of San Jose's Chinatown until the area was destroyed in the 1887 fire. The sandstone for its construction was quarried from the local Goodrich mines [1; 3]. Unfortunately, the 1906 earthquake destroyed the steeple of the original clock tower, which was rebuilt under the guidance of architect James Knox Taylor in 1908-1909, with a new three-faced, gravity-powered clock designed by "Century Clock" creator Nels Johnson. The building's status on the National Register of Historic Places is due to the significance of both its architecture and the clock (only five Nels Johnson clocks exist). After the post office closed in 1933, the building was vacant until 1935, when it was remodeled and added to by architect Ralph Wycoff for use as the City of San Jose Library [3].

A citizen-led grassroots effort began in 1969 to transform the building (in disuse by that time, and proposed for demolition) into an art gallery, and in 1971, the dream became a reality [2; 3]. The museum added a new wing in 1991 to house its overflowing permanent collection and to host international exhibits, in keeping with its home city's growth from a small agricultural community to a vital part of high-tech Silicon Valley [2]. 

The San Jose Museum of Art Today

Focusing on modern to contemporary art, architecture, and design, the San Jose Museum of Art hosts exhibitions from traditional painting to new-media installations, with subject matter reflecting diversity and community issues, in particular. The permanent collection has been acquired almost entirely by donation and features American Scene prints, Mid-20th Century Bay Area Abstraction, Figurative Painting and Sculpture by Bay Area Artists including the Davis School, Representational Painting, New Media Works, and Socially Engaged Art categories. Among these are paintings and drawings, prints and artist's books, sculpture, new media and installations, and photography, with many promised donations to come in future years. The museum is also Santa Clara County's largest provider of arts education through school programs and outreach such as Let's Look at Art Program, gallery activity stations, tours, and lectures [3].

1. Kohnen, Mathew H. "United States Post Office." Historical Marker Database. November 17, 2007. Accessed December 17, 2016. http://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=3611.

2. San Jose Museum of Art. Official website. Accessed December 17, 2016. http://sjmusart.org/history.

3. Zlatunich, Richard S. "Civic Art Gallery." National Parks Service, National Register of Historic Places. June 1, 1972. Accessed December 17, 2016. http://focus.nps.gov/AssetDetail/NRIS/73000453.