Classic automobiles, which have long been part of local history, will soon have a permanent home at the San Mateo County History Museum in downtown Redwood City.
At least 50 people gathered outside the museum to celebrate the unveiling of the Taube Family Carriage House and Automobile Gallery, a $13.5 million project slated to break ground by this fall.
What began as a simple project for a one-story, “barn-type structure” grew into multiple galleries showcasing Redwood City’s long automotive history, said John LaTorra, the San Mateo County Historical Association vice chairman. He spoke about his vision to expand educational opportunities to the more than 20,000 children who visit each year and maybe even spark their interest in the automotive industry and the future of transportation.
“We're going to use carriages, and automobiles to talk about the past, the present and the future,” he said.
The event took place in the museum parking lot, and soon-to-be site of a three-story, 14,000-square-foot building that will house a rotating exhibit of roughly 20 historic carriages and automobiles. In addition to the exhibits, people will be invited to interact with the artifacts—such as a two-bench buggy and horse-drawn carriage—and watch the ongoing construction and restoration of classic vehicles.
The project was made possible by gifts to the San Mateo County Historical Association from Tad and Dianne Taube of Taube Philanthropies and the Kopf family, which has long been involved in the automobile industry and contributes vehicles to the gallery’s exhibit.
“In the early 1900s, our grandfather—a self-taught orphan, German, living in Argentina—was hired by Ford Motor Company as an employee. In a few short years, he rose to become the head of Ford Motor Company of Japan,” Ben Kopf told the crowd. The family went on to open the first Towne Ford on Main Street in 1926, which has remained a landmark dealership ever since.
The Kopf family will be contributing some, but not all, of the vehicles on display, including a 1926 Model T, which Kopf said may be the subject of a live reconstruction. He hopes to build a Model T “from the ground up” to give people the opportunity to see how a classic car is made.
“They can do the actual restoration right there while the kids watch,” he said. His vision is to build the car in stages over the course of a year—though he added, “a good mechanic can assemble ones from scratch in about eight hours.”
Keystone donor and building namesake Tad Taube, who contributed $7 million to the gallery, got involved with the project after a friend introduced him to the museum.
“We walked in, and I saw this incredible rotunda,” he said. “And I realized that I was standing in the middle of something very important.”
Describing himself as a car enthusiast, Taube said his first car was a 1929 Nash that “looked like a hearse.”
“After that, I bought one of those—a Model T Ford,” he said, gesturing to the car on display. “And so I was like every other American kid, you know? We loved cars.”
His hope, he said, is that the project will “enhance the culture of our community.” Calling the automobile an important part of Redwood City history, he said he looked forward to having a space for them to be permanently exhibited. “I think that it's a very significant community project,” he said.
The gallery addition will be connected to the main museum and will be built with glass walls and nighttime lighting to allow passersby to enjoy the galleries. A rooftop terrace for conferences and receptions will sit on top of two floors of galleries.
Attendees witnessed a $1 million surprise donation during Wednesday’s event from law firm Corey, Luzaich, de Ghetaldi and Riddle in honor of attorney and former San Bruno mayor, George Corey. With the additional contribution, developers are now only $1 million away from their funding goal. Final drawings are to be completed on June 3, with a goal of opening the gallery to the public in early 2023.
“Five generations of the Kopf family have been a part of the automobile business,” Kopf said. “Redwood City has been a great place to be in the long term, and we hope to be here for a long time to come.”