EcoCenter History

A Building With A Unique History

The building was designed by local renowned architect Birge Clark in 1941. The building was commissioned by Lucie Stern, one of the premier philanthropists in Northern California.

In the words of the Palo Alto Weekly (May 08, 2002), “Notable as a unique example of streamline moderne architecture, locally famous Palo Alto architect Birge Clark took inspiration from the pilot house of an old paddle wheel steamer for the building's design. The structure, with its porthole-shaped windows and sleek facades, received a 1999 Preservation Award from the Art Deco Society of California as an outstanding example of art deco style architecture.”

Due to the involvement of both Birge Clark and Lucie Stern, and because of its unusual theme, the building received local historic status. This building’s history includes the fact that it also was the template for the Maritime Museum Building in San Francisco.

It was the home of the Sea Scouts, who launched their boats from the dock and boat harbor that once fronted the building. In 1986, the Palo Alto City Council voted to close the harbor and allow the marshes to restore to their natural state.

Over time the building’s original foundation sank three feet and the building flooded daily at each high tide. The Sea Scouts relocated their operation and the building deteriorated as it flooded for decades. The abandoned building deteriorated, flooded daily, and was subject to vandalism for almost 20 years.

In 2003 it was given local historic status and the City of Palo Alto set out to find a partner to restore the facility. In 2004, the Environmental Volunteers was given the opportunity to embrace the project.

Following several years of planning and permitting (15 local, state, and federal agencies have a piece of jurisdiction), and a successful $3.8 million capital campaign, the restoration was completed.

The Environmental Volunteers moved in on February 13, 2012. For the first time in decades, this iconic building, recognized by generations who visited the duck pond across the road, is again full of life.

In 2014, the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the American Institute of Architects recognized the restored EcoCenter with a Citiation Design Award. The EcoCenter's transformation from a historic building into a contemporary education center while overcoming daunting technical challenges and retaining the building's original whimsy was recognized by the AIA Jury.

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