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Saving an American Treasure

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Fact Sheet

After the windstorm in December of 1995, 40% of the glass panes that once sheathed the Victorian-era Conservatory of Flowers lay smashed on the ground, several wood arches were damaged and a portion of its collection of rare tropical plants was lost. Inspecting the building after the storm, city officials despaired to find that the years of extreme moisture both inside and outside the building had rotted the infrastructure extensively.

The Campaign to Save the Conservatory proved that San Francisco is truly "the city that knows how." Public, private and philanthropic sectors joined forces to ensure that the historic architectural gem endures well into the future.

Building Facts

  • The Conservatory of Flowers was erected in Golden Gate Park in 1878-79. Today, it is the oldest public conservatory in the United States.

  • It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historic Places, is a City and County of San Francisco Landmark and is a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark of the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was also placed on the World Monument Fund's list of the 100 most endangered monuments (one of the only American buildings on the list).

  • The Conservatory is 12,000 square feet. The central dome is 56 feet in diameter and 55 feet tall. Each arch-shaped wing is 93 feet long.

  • The finial atop the dome is 13 feet tall and weighs about 800 pounds.

  • The Conservatory's original walkways formed one of the oldest concrete pours in the West; the original concrete patent stamps have been reinstalled in the new walks.

Rehabilitation Facts

  • As many as 400 mature trees in Golden Gate Park were thrown over by the windstorm that damaged the Conservatory in 1995.

  • The project follows the guidelines for preservation set forth by the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring and Reconstructing Historic Buildings.

  • There were four phases of construction. Phase I involved the dismantling, analysis and reassembly of 900 square feet of the West Wing. Phase II involved the rehabilitation of the rest of the West Wing; Phase III the Central Dome and East Wing; Phase IV the exhibit program.

  • About two-thirds of the redwood architectural elements used in the original construction of the conservatory has been reused. The rest came from fallen, old growth buckskin redwood logs.

  • 70% of the mullions (pieces of wood that support the glass panes) were salvaged. All of the purlins (horizontal pieces of wood that support the mullions) and arches were replaced. 90% of the decorative elements were salvaged.

  • The building has 16,800 windowpanes nestled within a grid of 100 arches crafted from redwood and Douglas fir. All of the clear panes were replaced. 90% of the colored pieces were salvaged and reused.

  • The upper dome of the Conservatory weighed about 29,000 pounds when it was craned onto the lower dome on January 10, 2003.

  • Seismic upgrades to the structure include a more substantial foundation, stainless steel plates inside many of the arches and safety glass.