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California Academy of Sciences ~ A quick tour through its 155 year history. Our beginning on April 4 th , 1853 as the California Academy of Natural Sciences

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Our beginning on April 4th, 1853

as the California Academy of Natural Sciences

“On the evening of April 4, 1853, seven men assembled in a candle-lit room at 129 Montgomery and founded the first academy of science west of the Atlantic seaboard.”


The first formal museum of the now California Academy of Sciences

located at DuPont [Grant Avenue] and California Streets from 1872 to 1890.


Market Street Academy 1891 - 1906

With a bequest from James Lick, this stately, six story stone building was built at 833 Market Street [between Third and Fourth Streets].

The center archway leads to the museum in the rear building. The front building was an income producing commercial building.


Market Street Museum

The mammoth now dominates the second floor in this sky lit, open court of the museum.

Research offices were located on the top floors.

alice eastwood the earthquake story
Alice Eastwood & the Earthquake story
  • On April 18th, 1906, at 5:12 am, an approximately 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck San Francisco. Several Academy curators and staff members rushed to the Market Street Academy and were able to rescue one cart of materials. The items saved included Academy minute books, membership records, and 2,000 type specimens. The remaining 50 years’ worth of research collections and the library were lost in the fire. The heroine of the day was Botany curator Alice Eastwood, whose deeds remain legendary today.

Alice Eastwood 1859 - 1953


Academy botanist

galapagos islands 1905 1906 expedition schooner academy
Galapagos Islands, 1905-1906 Expedition, Schooner Academy
  • The Schooner Academy set sail for the Galapagos Islands on June 28th, 1905 with seven Academy scientists aboard. The group was led by Rollo Beck. They explored the islands for a year, but upon hearing of the April 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, they set sail and returned home that November. The specimens they collected became the core of the scientific collections after the Academy and its first 50 years of collecting were destroyed.

While the Academy was being destroyed by the 1906 earthquake, the Schooner Academy and its scientists [in suits] were on expedition in the Galapagos Islands.


The research collections they brought back

became the beginning of the new Academy


January 1894 ~ The Concourse developed for the Mid-Winter International Exposition

San Francisco City / County charter ~ citizens voted in 1910 to authorize

a museum to be located in Golden Gate Park on the Concourse

north american hall including bird hall research library and auditorium dedicated september 22 1916

North American Hallincluding Bird Hall,Research, Library and Auditorium~Dedicated September 22, 1916


These large doors are the public entrance to the first building, North American Hall. This 1925 view shows the entrance with the Francis Scott Key statue.


Steinhart Aquarium, the Academy’s second building, was dedicated on September 29, 1923, fulfilling Ignatz Steinhart's dream and bequest of a public aquarium for the city of San Francisco.

Visitors are viewing the center of three pools at the courtyard entrance.

science hall dedicated february 20 1951 morrison planetarium 1952 mailliard library 1959
Science HallDedicated February 20, 1951Morrison Planetarium1952Mailliard Library1959

Science Hall joined Simson African Hall with the Steinhart Aquarium.

The tile dome is Morrison Planetarium.

views of the past
Views of the Past
  • Information on features that will return in the new Academy
  • Events, expeditions and special people
  • Answers about Academy icons that have found new homes.
steinhart aquarium and swamp
Steinhart Aquarium and Swamp
  • Ignatz Steinhart proposed an aquarium for the city of San Francisco in 1910. In 1916, he began conversations with Academy Director Barton W. Evermann. After approval by a city election in 1918, a city charter established that the management and operation of an aquarium would be under the direction of the Academy and the operating funds would be furnished by the City of San Francisco. Ignatz donated the funds to construct the Steinhart Aquarium in honor of his brother, Sigmund Steinhart.
  • 1923 ~ The Steinhart Aquarium was opened on September 22nd.
  • 1963 ~ Major renovations were completed on the aquarium including the addition of the 63,500 gallon Dolphin Tank. The Swamp now contained animals that would be found in an American southeastern swamp, American alligators and alligator snapping turtles.
  • 1977 ~ The Fish Roundabout was dedicated.
  • 1995 ~ Passage of aquarium bond, Proposition C, for seismic upgrade and infrastructure repairs.
steinhart aquarium and swamp building designed by san francisco architect lewis p hobart
Steinhart Aquarium and SwampBuilding designed by San Francisco architect Lewis P. Hobart.

Swamp Room

steinhart aquarium and swamp1
Steinhart Aquarium and Swamp

Sea horse railings and bronze doors sculpted by San Franciscan Edgar Walters with bronze produced by C.J. Hillard Company, Inc.

steinhart aquarium and swamp2
Steinhart Aquarium and Swamp

Tiles designed and produced by Solon and Schemmel of San Jose. “The lively intrusions of polychrome tiles into the prevailing sea-green ground tone are most happy in effect”.

blue whale skeleton
Blue Whale Skeleton
  • The California Academy of Sciences' blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), also known as a sulfur-bottom whale) was captured off the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1908 by the whaler St. Lawrence, which was owned by the Pacific Whaling Station at Kyuquot, British Columbia. The skeleton was presented to the Academy in 1915 and then buried in what is now the Shakespeare Garden until it was mounted for display in 1917 by Joseph P. Herring.  The skeleton was displayed in a large open shed: over 94 feet long and 24 feet wide, with height varying from 14 to 22 feet. This shed cost $1777.08 to build -- over $33,000 in 2007 dollars. It was installed between the research wing and Bird Hall of North American Building. The April 1967 Academy member newsletter reports that staff had recently added barbed wire to a cyclone fence surrounding the whale shed because of recurring problems with graffiti, vandalism, and theft. Fiberglass substitutes for stolen bones were installed, and the entire skeleton received a cleaning and a coat of weather-proof paint.The whale itself, a male, is 75 feet long and is estimated to have weighed over 80 tons. It measures 11 feet wide and 9 feet deep at its 11th rib. Its head alone is over 20 feet long, its longest rib is over 10 feet long, and its front flippers are nearly 11 feet long. Its corpse yielded over 8 tons of fertilizer, 60 barrels of whale oil, and 400 pounds of baleen.
tyrannosaurus rex
Tyrannosaurus rex
  • Our Tyrannosaurus rex is a cast made from two dinosaurs, as none have been found intact. It was purchased from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology of Drumheller in Alberta and was assembled in the Academy Courtyard in the summer of 1993. It was on display to explain the science of the film Jurassic Park during our Jurassic exhibit. It was moved indoors the next year and was put on display in Cowell Hall.
sabre toothed cat
Sabre-toothed cat
  • This prehistoric cat from the La Brea tar pits has been on exhibit in both Fossil Hall (1969) and the Life Through Time (1990) exhibit.
foucault pendulum
Foucault Pendulum
  • During World War II, an optical shop was set up in the Museum to grind and polish lenses and to rebuild binoculars and telescopes for the U.S. Navy. With this staff and expertise, the Academy went on to build our Morrison Planetarium Star Projector and our Foucault Pendulum. Foucault created his pendulum in 1851 to prove that the earth rotates. Our pendulum was located in Science Hall when it opened in 1952. In 1958 we built a Foucault Pendulum for the Smithsonian Museum and then in 1960 we started producing them for clients around the world. They were built in our instrument shop at an average of 4 to 5 a year. They are now created by retired staffer Cary Ponchione as “Academy Pendulum Sales.”
  • (Alligator mississipiensis) ~ The original swamp inhabitants were replaced during the Aquarium reconstruction of 1962 with American alligators from the American Southeast. When the Academy closed in 2003, these alligators were retired to Georgia. New and younger alligators will now inhabit the new swamp.
galapagos islands 1932 crocker expedition and toshio asaeda
Galapagos Islands, 1932, Crocker Expedition and Toshio Asaeda
  • Three Academy scientists accompanied Templeton Crocker on his Schooner Zaca for his 1932 expedition to the Galapagos Islands. Crocker’s photographer and staff artist was Toshio Asaeda. His watercolors of fish captured their natural color, since they were painted as they were brought from the sea. His paintings were used as species signage in the old Steinhart Aquarium. Asaeda later joined the Academy’s Exhibit Department staff.
monarch the grizzly bear
“Monarch” the grizzly bear
  • “Monarch” the grizzly bear was captured alive on Gleason Mountain in the San Gabriel Range in Los Angeles County in 1889. He was placed on display in Woodward Gardens, a San Francisco amusement park, and then in Golden Gate Park. When he died in 1911 his body was prepared by taxidermist Vernon Shepard for the Natural History Department of the de Young Museum. He was accessioned into Academy’s Ornithology and Mammalogy Department in 1953.
  • In 1953, Don Greame Kelley, the founding editor of Pacific Discovery (the Academy’s first magazine)was commissioned to create the design for the new California state flag. Kelley used Monarch as a model for his drawing of the California grizzly bear. The original bear flag had been adopted by the state of California in 1911.
other objects on display
Other objects on display
  • Years of human hands have smoothed this mammoth tusk that was saved from the Academy after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
  • The larger tree section was cut from a Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) growing in Sequoia National Park, CA. It was cut in the winter of 1917-18 at the age of 1,710 years. The smaller section is from a Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens).
  • “Methuselah” the lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) is the oldest fish in the Steinhart Aquarium. He came half grown to the Academy in 1937.

Old views of Simson African Hall

African Watering Hole

Listening to the gorilla

items no longer at the academy
Items no longer at the Academy
  • Gary Larsen’s Far Side Gallery ~This permanent gallery was created after the 1985 exhibit of Gary Larsen’s Far Side cartoons. The name was also used for the Academy’s annual Thanksgiving weekend race, The Run to the Far Side, from 1985 to 2002. The exhibit and the rights to use the name were returned to the cartoonist in 2003.
  • Morrison Planetarium Star Projector
  • SafeQuake and Earthquake Theater ~ These two exhibits gave visitors the chance to experience a simulation of a California earthquake.

Gary Larson’s Far Side gallery

Morrison Planetarium star projector

EarthQuake exhibit and theater

items no longer at the academy1
Items no longer at the Academy
  • Dolphins ~ A 63,500 gallon tank with a pipeline to the Pacific Ocean was built during the renovations of Steinhart Aquarium in 1963. This tank was the home for two Pacific white-sided dolphins, a bottlenose porpoise and harbor seals. In 1995, the two 2 dolphins were relocated to the Sea World of Texas in San Antonio to live in a much larger, two million gallon tank. Tropical sharks took over the dolphin tank.
  • Fish Roundabout ~ This circular–toroidal tank was opened in 1977 and was the first of its kind in the United States. Open sea or pelagic fish could swim 50 miles a day in a 1 knot current in the 100,000 sea water tank. It was also voted by the citizens of San Francisco as the best “make-out” location in the city
  • “Butterball” the Manatee ~ Butterball was a beloved resident of the Steinhart Aquarium from 1967 to 1984. He ate 25 heads of lettuce every day and reached a weight of 450 pounds at maturity.

Fish Roundabout

“Butterball” the manatee

Dolphin Tank

items no longer at the academy2
Items no longer at the Academy
  • Whale Fountain ~The Whale Fountain was sculpted by Robert Howard for the San Francisco Pavilion at the World’s Fair on Treasure Island in 1939. It was rescued from storage and placed in the Academy’s Central Courtyard in 1958. Owned by the City of San Francisco, it now resides on the San Francisco City College campus.
  • Bufano sculptures ~The large and loveable Bufano animal sculptures from the Academy’s central courtyard are owned by the City of San Francisco and now have new homes. They were placed in the courtyard after an Academy exhibit of the work of San Francisco sculptor Beniamino [Benny] Bufano in 1975.

The Whale Fountain

Bufano sculptures

Presented by the Library and Special Collections

Karren Elsbernd, Aimee Morgan, Larry Currie and volunteer Marilyn Duman