Sunday, February 7, 2010

Live! At the California Academy of Sciences!

First, a small disclaimer. There wasn't really any live music at the Academy of Sciences. But there was a DJ, and drinks, and a whole lot of living animals, and fish, and plants... So I think that, in aggregate, I can get away with calling it "live".

We spent a total of about 36 hours in San Francisco last week, where it fell to me to set the agenda. My birthday, my tour priorities! Compared to Los Angeles there is a lot to do and see there, but I knew that we couldn't pass up what Wikipedia says is one of the ten largest natural history museums in the world. Then I found out that they host a 21 and over night every Thursday. I remember touring a museum after hours with my girl scout troop when I was a kid; the mystery and illicit feeling of being there after the unwashed masses had gone home. No way was I going to miss the opportunity to do that again, especially if champaign cocktails were on hand.

When we arrived I was astonished to see that the place was packed! Even in February, in the driving rain, this was clearly the place to be on a Thursday night. And with good reason. The museum has been in existence since 1853. It was formed just three years after California joined the Union, but even back then it was striking blows for gender equality. Almost immediately a resolution was passed to "approve of the aid of females in every department of natural science, and invite their cooperation". At the time it was housed in China Town, but soon the 80,000 visitors it attracted each year forced it to move to Market Street. Sadly, it was badly crippled in the terrible 1906 earthquake, but it rose from the ashes to set up shop in its current location in Golden Gate Park.

Disaster struck again in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the grand old building and rendered the aquarium portion almost unusable. Never a backwards-looking institution, it was decided to take the opportunity to completely re-imagine the building. Today it is one of the "greenest" museum designs in the world, right down to the insulation in the walls which is made out of scraps of recycled denim.

Incorporated into the new design are bits of the old art nouveau Stienhart Aquarium, which lend a bit of intimacy to the shiny new public spaces. Since we were there after dark there were added bonuses too: most of the nocturnal animals were wide awake and extremely active, including a giant Pacific octopus which was much wider than my outstretched arms. Was it responding to the music or just annoyed at the invasion of its privacy? I won't speculate, but I will say this: child or adult, nothing beats a night at the museum.




9 comments:

  1. What an awesome visit that must have been, especially at night so you could see the animals! That would have made the whole trip for me. I actually caught the Extreme Engineering episode about the museum when it was on, and it was so interesting seeing a little about how they designed the rainforest & aquarium, and how they addressed the problems involved w/ making it as "green" as possible. Great post, thanks!

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  2. Thanks KSK! I hadn't seen the museum since it had re-opened. I'll have to look for that episode!

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  3. That sounds like so much fun! What a treat to see all of the nocturnal guys out and about! Sweet!

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  4. Sounds like fun! We loved the Alcatraz night time tour. Very creepy after the sun goes down!

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  5. A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour..............................................

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  6. Love the Academy of Sciences! The Thursday Night event is so much fun! So glad to hear you enjoyed your visit there!

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  7. I've always thought that museums were the best venues for parties. I used to love going to the first Saturday parties at the Brooklyn Museum of Art when I lived in NY! It's really interesting to hear about the 'greening' of the museum at the Academy of Sciences. I hope more follow suit!

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  8. Sounds like a lot of fun! I love visiting San Francisco but haven't been to the museum yet but it's on my must see list now!

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  9. Wonderful post! I can see I have to go back sometime, and I sure hope that octopus is there when I do.

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