Golden Gate Park Conservatory of Flowers
The Conservatory of Flowers is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and one of only a few large Victorian greenhouses in the United States. William Hammond Hall, planner of Golden Gate Park, included the idea of a conservancy in his original concept for the design of the park. The structure was partially destroyed by fire in 1883 and rebuilt the following year. The Conservancy underwent partial structural restoration in 1965, 1978, and 1982, yet these efforts only selectively renovated elements that were in very poor condition. In December 1995, a severe windstorm shattered over 40 percent of the glass-tiled skylights of the Conservatory. While the conservancy was fortunate to survive, its aging wood frame was badly weakened by the storm and several of its supports splintered. Approximately 15 percent of the tropical plant collection housed inside was lost and the building was closed to the general public.
How We Helped
The Conservatory of Flowers was placed on the Watch in 1996. Our immediate goal was to fund the architectural and engineering studies and planning that was necessary to restore the Conservatory. Awareness through the Watch proved catalytic, drawing attention and funding to the site. The building was designated an official project of Save America’s Treasures in 1998. The honor was accompanied by a large grant and attracted many other benefactors, raising over $10 million for the conservatory. The San Francisco Garden Club and WMF worked together to try to expedite the restoration of the building in order to stave off irrecoverable damage, as well as reopen it to the public as quickly as possible. After eight years and three phases of restoration, the Conservatory of Flowers was rededicated in September 2003 and reopened to the public.
Why It Matters
Covering over 12,500 square feet, Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers is one of the largest conservatories in the U.S. The glass building was the first municipal greenhouse in the park. Part of the urgency of this project related to the rare botanical collection of more than 700 of the 1,000 known species of high-altitude orchids, which was the only such collection in the world. Many of the other plants in the collection came from the rainforests of Central and South America and the Pacific Islands, where destruction of their native habitats for logging and farming had endangered their survival. The restoration of the Conservatory demonstrated an effective partnership between public and private entities.