Portuguese Historical Museum

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The Portuguese Historical Museum opened on June 7, 1997, just a few days before Portugal Day, which is commemorated on June 10 annually. The museum is one of the major attractions of History San José. In keeping with the theme of the historical park, it depicts life as it was in the Santa Clara Valley (now known as Silicon Valley) at the turn of the 20th century. The Portuguese Historical Museum is a replica of the first permanent império (Chapel to the Holy Spirit) built in San José circa 1915. It was constructed on the present site of the I.E.S. Hall on East Santa Clara Street and U.S. 101.

The império, like many of its counterparts in the Azores, was built to honor the Holy Spirit. It also served as the center of much social and religious activity. At the turn of the century, it represented the continuation of celebrated traditions that helped make easier the immigrants’ transition from the old world to the new by maintaining strong bonds to their heritage.

Portuguese Historical Museum

Portuguese Historical Museum


Five Wounds Church and Império

The museum has approximately 3200 square feet of exhibit space on two levels. On the ground floor, the emphasis is on the reconstructed altar that serves as the backdrop for the explanation of the significance of the Holy Ghost celebrations.

Another major showpiece is an etched glass map depicting the Portuguese world. This beautiful piece graces the entrance of the museum, and with its view, visitors are introduced to Portuguese history and culture. Display cases house the ever-changing exhibits on topics such as Life in The Old Country, Coming to America, and Making a Living.

The lower floor hosts rotating exhibits that relive historical events like the 1957 volcanic eruption off the Azorean island of Faial and the exodus of refugees that it spawned. In addition, exhibits such as folklore and Portuguese marching bands show how these traditions continue to be a part of Portuguese-American culture.

Project Background

The concept of a Portuguese historical museum had been circulating in the Portuguese community for many years. Formal planning finally began in 1989 as a project of the Cabrilho Cultural Center at San José State University.

In 1991, the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce of Santa Clara Valley assumed responsibility for the museum project. It started the financial ball rolling by securing a grant of 36,761.33€ from the Santa Clara County Historical Commission; another 74,441.69€ was awarded in subsequent grants.

The Portuguese Heritage Society of California (PHSC) was incorporated in 1993 to assume control of the Portuguese Historical Museum project. The organization entered into a contractual agreement with the City of San José to construct and administer the museum to be located at History San José located in Kelley Park.

The PHSC kicked off its initial fundraising campaign in 1993. Several organizations from Portugal and abroad responded with grants:

  • The Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon
  • The Luso-American Development Foundation
  • The Camoes Institute
  • The Commission for the Portuguese Discoveries
  • The Foundation of the Far East and the Government of Portugal
  • Regional Government of the Azores, Office of the Regional Secretary for the Communities

Portuguese-American societies and organizations also contributed to the first and subsequent campaigns:

  • S.E.S. Corporation
  • U.P.E.C.
  • Luso-American Life Insurance Society
  • I.D.E.S.
  • U.P.P.E.C.
  • Luso-American Education Foundation

Foundations, organizations and enterprises from the broader community also supported the project:

  • The Stella B. Gross Foundation
  • San José Rotary Club
  • California Council for the Promotion of History
  • Citibank
  • San José Mercury News

Taken together, grants from these groups accounted for more than 275,709.95€ of initial funding for the project.

Fundraising activities and individual contributions realized another 105,688.82€ for the museum in just the first few years of the campaign. The Wall of Honor, a special fundraising project, helped fund the Plaza project.

The Portuguese Historical Museum continues to be a work in progress. Its motto is: A museum is the living memory of a community. This is appropriate because ongoing community support enables the museum to develop new and exciting exhibits that convey the wonderful history, heritage and culture of Portuguese communities in the United States and around the world.


Exhibits in the museum will depict the history of the Portuguese immigrants. This story will be framed in the context of an overall picture of the Portuguese historical experience. The story will unfold in layers:

  • The premier position of Portugal during the time of the discoveries
  • Portuguese immigrations throughout the world
  • Portuguese immigration to the United States
  • Portuguese migration to California
  • Portuguese settling in Santa Clara Valley

Map of the Portuguese discoveries


Coming to America exhibit


Órgãos Sociais

Board of Directors

Mary R. Alsheikh
Manuel Bettencourt
Arthur Britto
Sylvia Carroll
Eduardo Collaço
Mary Correia
Al Dutra
Carlos Fagundes
Joe E. Faria
John & Lorraine Figueira
David & Vina Freitas
Ray Gamma
Debby Gentry-Rao

Lionel B. Goularte
Joe Machado
Manuel Madruga
Sharlene Mello
Julie Meneses
Antonino Pascoal
Aldina Pereira
Joe A. Rose
Brian Serpa
Angela Costa Simões
Hélia Sousa
Bonnie Simas-Staggs
Lucy Vargas


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Head Office

1650 Senter Rd,
San Jose, CA 95112
United States


(408) 287-2290


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