Local Knowledge: California Academy of Sciences
In 1853, as California began its junior year of official statehood in the U.S., a group of seven men began work on what would become one of the world’s largest natural history museums: the California Academy of Sciences. Rivaling New York’s American Museum of Natural History, or London’s Natural History Museum, San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences lives permanently in our beautiful Golden Gate Park and boasts over 26 million specimens. When the Academy opened the first museum of its calibre in California, it broke barriers by prominently involving and featuring women in science—an early demonstration of the forward thinking attitude that would soon define the Academy.
The lush history of the Cal Academy tends to be lost on most, which is understandable as attendees are naturally distracted by the museum’s many epic exhibitions including the beautiful and diverse Steinhart Aquarium, the Rainforests of the World enclosure, and the literally lush, and sustainable green roof.
Today, we bring the Academy’s past to light.
The seed for the Academy’s inception was planted as local San Franciscan naturalists began accumulating enough research specimens through their fieldwork to call for a permanent home. The museum was first built in 1874 on the corner of California and Dupont Street (now Grant Avenue) in what is now known as Chinatown. With a gargantuan wooly mammoth, a vast array of historical artifacts, and taxidermy animals native to California, it was no surprise that the museum saw close to 80,000 attendees a year. As the museum’s popularity increased, the decision to move to a new and larger outpost on Market Street was made.
Unfortunately, as the earthquake of 1906 and the subsequent fires swept the city, the Academy, too, was engulfed in debris. Once the disaster was under control, museum curators were able to fill a wheelbarrow with the surviving specimens and artifacts that would serve as the initial building blocks of the Academy of Sciences we know today.
In 1916, the Academy was reborn, having found a new home in Golden Gate Park. As the world embraced the 20th century, so too did the museum with the openings of monumental exhibits such as the Steinhart Aquarium, the Morrison planetarium, and the Simson African Hall.
Today, the Academy stands stronger than ever, having survived not just the earthquake and fires of 1906, but also the Loma Prieta quake in 1989, which speaks to the enduring legacy of the institution. The Academy’s present day mindset—which is particularly on display every Thursday during its NightLife series—is geared around a 21st century museum-going experience. It is built for the modern age and the modern attendee.
Some of the newest features to the Academy include the green roof—a living roof inspired by seven major hills in San Francisco (Telegraph Hill, Nob Hill,Russian Hill, Rincon Hill, Mount Sutro, Twin Peaks and Mount Davidson) and planted with more than 1.7 million plants native to California—as well as the earthquake simulator known as the Shake House, and of course the ever famous Claude, the museum’s resident albino alligator.
Be sure to visit the Academy tonight, Thursday November 19th for NightLife’s annual BiteLife event, which celebrates all things edible. That’s right, baby, I’m talking about food. The San Franpsycho crew will be onsite via our coffee and ice cream bar, Sundays, and we’ll be serving up free ice cream samples with our good friends Three Twins!
Check out our video below on how to enjoy NightLife San Franpsycho style!