What is the California Academy of Sciences?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 March 2020
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The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, CA, is one of the top natural history museums in the world. The Academy was one of the first museums in the Western United States, founded just three years after California’s admission to the Union. Today, the California Academy of Sciences has undergone a tremendous redesign after severe earthquake damage, and will reopen in 2008 with old favorite exhibits and some advanced new ones.

In 1853, the Academy of Natural Sciences was founded to examine the flora, fauna and history of the state’s many natural resources. It was exceptional in its decision to include female scientists, who found it difficult to get work or credit during the 19th century. The home of the Academy moved around several times before being destroyed in the 1906 earthquake that leveled much of San Francisco. In 1913, the Academy was moved to its current home in Golden Gate Park.


The California Academy of Sciences has consistently added new buildings and exhibits to its displays. In 1923, the Steinhart Aquarium joined the building, followed by the North African Hall in 1934. In the 1950s, the Science Hall, Morrison Planetarium, Malliard Library and Hall of Botany were added. The planetarium was one of the earliest in the United States, and featured a star projector designed and built by Academy Staff. During World War II, the Academy aided the war effort by repairing optical lenses, and through this gained insight into new technology that aided in the production of the projector.

In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake caused serious damages to the California Academy of Sciences. While planning modifications and repairs for the buildings, engineers realized the structure would not adapt well to earthquake retrofitting. This gave Academy officials the opportunity to propose a complete redesign of the site, implementing new technology and expanding the scope of the Academy once more. Construction began in 2005 with an emphasis on sustainable and environmentally sound practices.

The new Academy consists of older exhibits, such as the planetarium, African Hall of Animals, the popular Alligator Swamp, and Foucault pendulum. New additions include a gigantic dome enclosing a replica of a rainforest environment, an exhibition of a flooded Amazon River forest, and the world’s deepest interior coral reef exhibit. The building will serve as a model of environmentally friendly construction, and features a “living roof” observation level that is planted like a garden.

The grand opening of the California Academy of Sciences is scheduled for September, 2008. Membership packages are now available, allowing unlimited yearly admission beginning at $59 US Dollars (USD) per couple. Daily admission will also be available, but the Academy has not yet posted prices. If visiting San Francisco, the California Academy of Sciences is not to be missed as a landmark of the city. The various exhibits give visitors insight into nature and technology for over 150 years, and looks to continue the tradition throughout the 21st century.



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