Exhibits honor innovation, immigrants

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Bright ethnic costumes, a huge color-drenched mural, elegant carved furniture and a collection of silicon chunks and vacuum tubes are all part of the new offerings at the San Mateo County History Museum, debuting this weekend.

Three key elements of Peninsula culture — immigration, innovation and interior design — are explored in new permanent exhibits opening at the museum Saturday as part of the San Mateo Historical Association’s celebration this year of the county’s 150th anniversary. “Living the California Dream” traces local estates and the progression of interior design trends; “Land Of Opportunity” pays tribute to waves of immigrants who founded the county; and “San Mateo County History Makers” champions the Peninsula’s innovators, particularly those on the cusp of Silicon Valley.

Museum renovations doubling the exhibit space of the museum, including the creation of the new state-of-the-art exhibits, were created through $5.5 million in private donations, according to museum Director Mitch Postel. Each showroom cost $1 million, while another $2.5 million went into the restoration of Courtroom A’s polished-wood furnishings and stained-glass ceiling.

Some of those contributions came from longtime Redwood City residents Pete and Paula Uccelli, who rallied their support for the immigrant collection. As guests enter this wing, they will see a world map on the floor, along with a mural of Peninsula immigrant groups — Ohlone, Chinese, Italian, Japanese and South Indian — painted by San Francisco artist Mona Caron.

“We have always loved history and the history of where we live, and the immigrants played such a big role,” Paula Uccelli said.

Pete Uccelli’s father was among the Italian farmers who worked the fields in South San Francisco.

The room sports one of many new high-tech museum features. Specialized “sound domes” will play audio interviews with many of the region’s immigrants — but only when visitors are standing near or directly under them, Postel said.

In “Living the American Dream,” visitors can look through peepholes at replicas of famous local estates and follow the transition from the rich furnishings of early wealthy settlers to the more suburban look of the 1950s. A wall-sized panel tracks the history of Sunset magazine, headquartered in Menlo Park since the 1930s.

The museum’s tribute to entrepreneurs tracks the history of local innovations, from the use of silicon wafers to make computer chips to some of the industry’s first video games, produced by Redwood Shores-based Electronic Arts. EA is rarely included in museum shows, according to Tammy Schachter, director of corporate communications.

“Games are a cultural phenomenon, so having recognition at that level is something we’re really proud of,” Schachter said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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