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History Museum launches virtual tours of Smith House

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Courtesy of the Los Altos History Museum
To increase accessibility amid the pandemic, the Los Altos History Museum is offering self-guided 3D tours of the historical J. Gilbert Smith House through its website.

To increase accessibility of the historical J. Gilbert Smith House, the Los Altos History Museum engaged VirtualEyes Media to create two interactive virtual tours of the home.

Pre-COVID, students could visit the house on field trips, and visitors could take docent-led tours. The house remains temporarily closed to the public, but all can view it room by room in the self-guided 3D tours through the museum’s website beginning Friday. One tour is geared specifically toward third- and fourth-graders, and the other toward the general public.

In 1901, carpenter and Stanford University student J. Gilbert Smith purchased acreage where the house now stands, planted an apricot orchard and built the two-story Craftsman-style home. Since completed in 1905, the house has been refurbished with an outside stairway and retrofitted for earthquake and fire safety. Once the Smith House became a museum in 1977, the Historical Association furnished the inside in the style of a Depression-era home. Visitors could imagine gathering by the radio to hear President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fireside Chat as mother sewed, father smoked his pipe and children engaged in a game of checkers. In 1981, the house was designated a historical landmark.

“We’ve been wanting to create a 3D tour of the Smith House for a long time, but the pandemic made this project much more urgent,” said Amy Ellison, the museum’s exhibition curator. “Since we weren’t able to have docent-led tours or class field trips this year, we knew we had to find a different way for people to experience the museum. It’s been incredibly exciting to use technology to make our historic house more accessible to visitors.”

VirtualEyes Media, whose owners have long-term Los Altos ties, shot photos of the house similar to how real estate companies do when showing houses online. Members of the museum’s Smith House and Education committees provided content, including stories about the Smith family, details about the architecture of the home and references to the 1930s. Visitors can “walk” through the house and click the stories they want to read, or access audio and video clips.

“We’re so excited to offer a new way to experience this iconic Los Altos landmark,” Ellison said. “And while it can’t replace visiting the Smith House in person, we hope it provides greater access to the house and helps to preserve the Smith family’s history for future generations.”

Beginning Friday, the museum also plans to reopen its Upper Gallery and train diorama, and expand hours to include Fridays from noon to 4 p.m.

The Los Altos History Museum is located at 51 S. San Antonio Road.

To view a 3D tour of the Smith House, visit losaltoshistory.org/SmithHouse.

For more information on the museum, visit losaltoshistory.org.

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