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 $40,000 from the Santa Clara County Historical Commission; another $81,000 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
- Luso-American Life Insurance Society
- 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
- San José Mercury News
Taken together, grants from these groups accounted for more than $300,000 of initial funding for the project.
Fundraising activities and individual contributions realized another $115,000 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.