|Image credit: Cal Academy of Sciences Research Archives|
My family moved to San Francisco just before I turned 2 and just after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. We were pretty poor, apparently, although I had no idea because I was a toddler and we lived at the edge of Golden Gate Park, which is still one of the coolest places in the world that a kid can possibly have at her doorstep. (Although the Inner Sunset, our neighborhood, is a whole bunch ritzier now, there still remains a shop that was for me a magical cave at the age of 2, which we called The Badge Shop because it sold dozens of tiny enameled pins and other treasures. It's really called "Oriental Import Co" or something, and it looks exactly the same. You can still buy a really great pin for five bucks, too.) Back then, a member ship at the Academy of Sciences was affordable. As this article says, a family membership was $25 in 1996, and this is even earlier. Now it's $500. Poor kids like me don't get to go any more, but then there's a lot less to see these days....
Some of my very earliest memories are of the Academy of Sciences. When I was 5 I wanted to be a paleontologist because they had this incredible exhibit that included huge forested dioramas full of dinosaurs and giant centipedes and whatnot, as well as a dinky little video about paleontologists at work with a catchy tune that went "Diggin' up bones, diggin' up bones, diggin' 'em up and takin' 'em home..." I mean, what, what, could be a cooler job?! There were a million other things, of course -- an alligator pit in the middle of a beautiful white room full of light and lined all around with tiny glass boxes housing amphibians in miniature lush swamps and terrariums, a hall full of bones, a dim dark blue glass roundabout where fish swam past in an endless aquamarine, a whole section of cases displaying gemstones and fascinating minerals, a huge pendulum that slowly knocked over little pegs, and a fantastic earthquake exhibit with a shaker table, a little stand you got into that displayed old old footage of San Francisco and wobbled you about like a real earthquake...listen, when the Academy closed in 2005 for earthquake retrofitting, I dreamed about it. I dreamed that I was wandering through a temporary display of the Touch Tank, a great tidepool display full of starfish you could pick up (another formative experience, the cold, slimy, stony texture of those starfish - it's been maybe 15 years since I held one, but I know exactly what it feels like.) I dreamed about it reopening ever more magnificent.
It didn't. When I went back a few months after its reopening, I was horrified. The dinosaurs were gone. The gems were gone. The Hall of Bones was gone. The beautiful room of amphibians was gone. The pendulum was gone. There was, instead, a Biosphere, which is a nice walk full of pretty birds and butterflies, and a Living Roof, which is cool I guess, and a bunch of glass boxes and flat-screen TVs. And it cost me, a broke college student, $24.95 to see my childhood emptied out.
|Image credit: Ingrid Taylar|
|Underwater Diversity Exhibit. Photo credit: calacademy.org|
|Pretty sure these are the dudes I remember, |
shown here being built by Stephen Czerkas.Thanks to this swell dino blog.
|The only, and I mean only, images of this awesome diorama I can find are on stock photo websites. Isn't there anyone out there with a photo blog of their kids pretending to eaten or something? The site where I found them describes the image as "Deinonychus sculptures in a diorama by Stephen Czerkas in the California Academy of Sciences." They're 8-11 feet each!|
I'm complaining about the new Academy because I'm so sad that no other kids will ever get to experience the feeling of those rooms. They've been homogenized and sterilized and upscaled, and there's nothing playful or stranage about them any more. No more Deinonychii leaping out life-sized to scare the bejeezus out of the wee ones. No gem-like frogs in their minute glass boxes. No more dusty space rocks. You can see the new floor plan here. (Because it's all flashy now, I can't just embed it.) But here's what exhibits look like now. You know what kids probably won't remember? That blue thing with the screens in it. Whereas the enormous insects made of plastic scurrying among a buncha fake trees, dinky as it might have been, told a story. They were there to reach out and touch. Some things have been saved (the African hall is still pretty cool and almost identical, the flooded Amazon floor is kinda neat) and apparently the shaker table is coming back in May, but in some odd way, the abandonment of all my favorite things has served to teach me an important lesson: if you want to make a museum memorable forever, don't make it hip, or classy, or clean. Make it weird and beautiful and cool and alive, a whole strange world to step into and dream about.
I don't know about you, but I sure don't dream about stuff like that "Underwater Diversity" exhibit.
Do you have a tragic story of a magical place gone missing? Or better yet, a trove of photos from the lost exhibits I can weep over?? Let me know!