Magnes Museum collections will move to UC Berkeley

Rendering of new Magnes on Allston Way

Berkeley’s Judah L. Magnes Museum and UC Berkeley today announced a partnership whereby the treasures of the Magnes will be transferred to the university.

The Magnes’ 10,000-piece collection of precious music, art, rare books and historical archives will retain the Magnes name but be distributed to various parts of the university.

The bulk of the Magnes collection, which focuses on the Jewish experience in California, will move into a renovated building at 2121 Allston Way, just a block from the university. The 25,000-square-foot space will have a lecture room, seminar rooms and a state-of-the art space to exhibit the Magnes’ prints, paintings, photographs, costumes and Jewish ceremonial objects.  UC’s Jewish Studies program will also have office and classroom space in the building, which should enhance student study of the collections.

“There is such a close fit between the Magnes’ Western Jewish Archives and library collections and the Bancroft’s collections on the history of California and the American West that it seems like a match made in heaven,” Charles Faulhaber, the director of the Bancroft, said in a press release.


The archives of the Western Jewish History Center will be moved to The Bancroft Library. In some cases, the move will unite papers from different branches of one family, such as the Haas family, who settled in California in the 1850s and who went on to run Levi Strauss & Co. The Magnes has the papers of Rosalie Meyer Stern and the Bancroft has the papers of her daughter, Elise Stern, who married Walter Haas.

Musical manuscripts and sheet music will be located at the Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library.

The new name of the Magnes Museum will be the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at The Bancroft Library.

“We are excited to acquire, steward and grow this precious cultural asset and ensure that it contributes to a much broader vision for our already robust Jewish studies programs at UC Berkeley,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau. “We thank Warren Hellman, the Taube Family, and the Koret Foundation, who have stepped forward to help make this vision possible. We also look to build on the foundation of support created in the last five decades by the many friends of the Magnes Museum who have given generously and made this collection the treasure that it is today.”

Magnes Museum donors will pay for the renovation of the Allston Way property. Philanthropists Warren Hellman, Tad Taube, and the Koret Foundation have pledged to donate $2.5 million over the next five years. These gifts will ensure that the acquisition is built on a solid and self-sustaining financial model.

The Magnes is selling its historic building on Russell Street, which has served as its home for around 40 years. The Magnes was founded by Seymour and Rebecca Fromer in 1961. [Disclosure: Berkeleyside co-founder Frances Dinkelspiel is the Magnes Museum’s board president.]