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Still a Tropical Beauty After All These Years

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The Conservatory of Flowers Celebrates its 125th Year

Where did all the flowers go? To San Francisco to celebrate the Conservatory of Flowers' 125th Birthday, of course! You're invited to this extraordinary party throughout the month of April when San Francisco's beloved Victorian landmark will host a special one-time-only historical exhibition entitled "Snapshots and Souvenirs: 125 Years of the Conservatory of Flowers" and "Tropical Traditions," a month-long series of floral craft demonstrations from around the world.

Imagine being 125 years old and still one of the most photographed beauties in the city. San Francisco's Conservatory of Flowers has been the backdrop for countless wedding photos, family portraits and vacation snapshots since it was erected in 1879. From Victorian gents on bicycles to swingin' Seventies rollerskaters, the Conservatory has seen it all, and now you can too in the exhibit "Snapshots and Souvenirs: 125 Years of the Conservatory of Flowers." This commemorative exhibition will highlight photographs and memorabilia of the beloved Victorian landmark from the personal collections of Bay Area residents and from the Conservatory's own archive. The exhibit also includes photos of several legendary San Franciscans, the plant collections through time and the recent restoration of the building. "Snapshots and Souvenirs: 125 Years of the Conservatory of Flowers" runs from April 1 to December 2004 and is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Conservatory will also celebrate its birthday with "Tropical Traditions," a special month-long series of floral craft demonstrations from around the world. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in April you can watch a different hands-on demonstration by master artists from Thailand, Hawaii, China and more.

Kicking off the "Tropical Traditions" series will be a demonstration of the edible artistry of Thai fruit carvers Narongwacha Broytubtim and Rosalin Moore. With lightening speed and just one sharp, little knife, these two can turn a guava into a lotus flower and a melon into a modern work of art. Fruit carving has been a Thai tradition for centuries, but originated in its palaces. In order to retain one's position as a royal chef, meals needed to be attractive as well as tasty. But it's not just for princes anymore. So, come and see how a lowly turnip becomes a blossom on April 2, 3 and 4 from 1-4 p.m. each day.

Next up in this series is the amazing Zhang Hai Yue, a Chinese musician and craftsman renowned for his ability to do just about anything with a blade of grass. He is one of the few Chinese artists who can hand weave all kinds of miniature animals and objects from straw. This special craft was a well-kept secret in the Zhang family for centuries and was taught to Mr. Zhang by his father. You won't believe your eyes as a thin reed quickly becomes a cricket or a dragonfly. But that's not all. Ask Mr. Zhang to play a song for you, and he will pick up a straw, place it between his hands and start to play a flawless version of it. See it and hear it for yourself on April 9, 10 and 11 from 1-4 p.m. each day.

Absolutely not to be missed is Hawaii's Master Lei-maker, Marie McDonald, who will present an extremely rare mainland demonstration of this famed island tradition. Marie, whose 10-acre flower farm on the big island provides a bounty of materials for lei-making, is one of Hawaii's most respected floral kupuna or elders. She is the author of the definitive "Ka Lei - The Leis of Hawaii" and most recently the co-author of "Na Lei Makamae - The Treasured Lei," an in-depth look at the rare pre-contact leis of Hawaii. In 1990, she was recognized as a "Master of Traditional Arts" by the National Endowment for the Arts and a native Hawaiian "Living Treasure" by the Smithsonian Institute. Marie will demonstrate her craft on April 16, 17 and 18 from 2-4 p.m.

"Snapshot and Souvenirs: 125 Years of the Conservatory of Flowers" and all program in the "Tropical Traditions" series are free with paid admission.

The Conservatory of Flowers is a spectacular living museum of rare and beautiful tropical plants under glass. From Borneo to Bolivia, the 1500 species of plants at the Conservatory represent unusual flora from more than 50 countries around the world. Immersive displays in five galleries include the lowland tropics, highland tropics, aquatic plants, potted plants and special exhibits. Opened in 1879, the wood and glass greenhouse is the oldest existing conservatory in the Western Hemisphere and has attracted millions of visitors to Golden Gate Park since it first opened its doors. It is designated as a city, state and national historic landmark and was one of the 100 most endangered sites of the World Monuments Fund. The Conservatory reopened to the public in September 2003, eight years after a pacific storm with winds of over 100 mph severely damaged the Victorian jewel.

For more information, call (415) 666-7001 or visit

Note: images and interviews available upon request.