Stanford Art Museum closed due to quake damage; reparations may take up to two years

When Stanford Art Prof. Wanda Corn took over as acting director of the Stanford Museum on Sept. 1 upon the retirement of long-time director Lorenz Eitner, little did she know that her first major task would be restoration of a historical treasure made impassible by the largest California earthquake since 1906.

The Museum suffered severe structural damage from the Oct. 17 quake, particularly in the two rotundas that flank the central structure, rendering the entire Museum unsafe for entry until repairs are made, building inspectors said.

The central structure, built in 1891, has withstood both shocks quite well overall, Corn said.

"We pat the structure on its columns."

According to Corn, the Stanford Museum was the first public building anywhere to be built of reinforced concrete, a material that was until then reserved for industrial purposes.

"This is a very historical building," Corn said.

"We may be closed for one year, or even two, but it would be nice to think that we could come out of all this with a completely refurbished and modernized museum."

The University has not yet assessed how long the renovation will take nor how much it will cost.

"It is clear that the damage is serious enough to necessitate a sophisticated analysis of how we must rebuild it," Corn said.

The two side rotundas are in immediate danger of collapse in the event of a second strong quake or aftershock, and represent a threat both to visitors and to the collection, she said.

While the 1906 earthquake devastated the museum's permanent collection, the recent quake caused much less damage to the Museum's contents because of greatly increased earthquake protection.

Museum staff are now trundling large portions of the collection into the basement for safekeeping.

On the positive side, Corn said, Stanford's Rodin garden emerged from the quake unscathed, and the Art

Gallery will reopen Thursday. Art lectures are continuing as scheduled in the Cummings Art building, which also sustained no significant damage. Art classes have resumed after a week's break, and both the old and new art studios in the foothills "rode the quake out well," Corn said.

At the Museum itself, more than 14 ceramic Jose Vermeersch sculptures on loan from the Belgian government were shattered. Corn said that the Museum will repair or send out for repair what was damaged in the permanent collection, which included one Rodin plaster, one Renaissance marble figure and four pieces from the Asian collection, according to staff reports.

"We've collected every little piece with care," she said.

Corn said she also felt very proud of the success of the special braces and installation techniques designed by Stanford Museum staff to protect fragile Greek vases and Roman glass objects.

"Nothing was lost that was protected in this way," she asserted.

"Now that they've been tested, we're very anxious to share these techniques with other Bay Area museums and galleries."