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Top 12 Interesting Conservatory of Flowers Facts

In the northeastern corner of an immense urban park in San Francisco, you can find one of the most stunning greenhouses in the world.

The fascinating building in San Francisco doesn’t just look amazing but also holds a number of interesting records.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about the Conservatory of Flowers, a beautiful landmark with some fascinating stories to tell.

1. It’s located in the immense Golden Gate Park

The Conservatory of Flowers is a historic structure in San Francisco. It has a history that is nearly as long as that of the park it’s located in.

You can find the conservatory in the northeastern corner of the Golden Gate Park, San Francisco’s version of New York City’s Central Park.

This huge park covers an area of 1,017 acres (412 hectares) in the northwestern part of the city and was established in 1870. It’s 20% larger than Central Park and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city.

Apart from the Conservatory, you can find plenty of other tourist attractions here as well, including the:

  • De Young Museum
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Japanese Tea Garden
Golden Gate Park aerial
Aerial view of the park with the conservatory in the northeastern corner / Wiki Commons

2. The greenhouse was completed in the late 1870s

The greenhouse has a history that dates back to the Victorian era and was therefore constructed in the typical Victorian architectural style.

What’s remarkable about this structure is that it was included in the original plans of the Golden Gate Park by civil engineer William Hammond Hall (1846-1934), the man who produced the design of the park.

Greenhouses became increasingly popular in Europe in the 19th century, especially since the completion of the now-destroyed Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851.

The structure wasn’t completed initially because it required a committee of 27 rich local businessmen to provide the funds for the project.

“A group of 27 prominent San Franciscans and local philanthropists” raised $30,000 and the Conservatory of Flowers first opened its doors in 1879.

Conservatory of Flowers in 1879
The greenhouse upon completion in 1879 / Wiki Commons

3. It was modeled on other famous greenhouses but with different materials

The Chrystal Palace was a highly influential structure. It served as the centerpiece of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and was designed with cast iron and glass.

Its design allowed for much larger greenhouses to be constructed than before and it became highly influential for other similar structures all around Europe.

The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken in Brussels, the Palmenhaus Schönbrunn in Vienna, and the Kew Gardens Palm House in London are just a few of the greenhouses that were inspired by the Chrystal Palace.

So was the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco, except for one important detail. Instead of using cast iron, the main building material was wood.

The Western part of the United States offered plenty of wood for this purpose so that’s why this decision was made.

Kew Gardens Palm House London
Kew Gardens Palm House in London / Diliff / Wiki Commons

4. The conservatory houses 4 different galleries with plants

The conservatory covers 12,000 square feet (1,100 square meters) and is home to over 1,700 species of plants. These are housed in 4 different rooms inside the building:

  • Potted Plants Gallery – Dedicated to rare plants that grow in hot regions of the world.
  • Lowlands Gallery – Dedicated to plants that grow near the Equator in South America.
  • Highlands Gallery – Houses plants that grow in elevated areas of Central and South America.
  • Aquatics Gallery – Replicates conditions near the Amazon River to grow aquatic plants.
Conservatory of Flowers interior
An interior view of the conservatory / Sfancyson / Wiki Commons

5. The structure was repaired during a $25 million project in 2003

The central room of the building only lasted 4 years before being destroyed by a severe fire in 1883. It was reconstructed shortly after.

This was just one of several renovations conducted to keep the greenhouse in mint condition. Luckily, the devastating 1906 earthquake only slightly damaged the greenhouse.

The structure suffered another fire in 1918 and was completely closed between 1933 and 1946. A storm in 1995 damaged 40% of the glass panes.

To restore the Conservatory of Flowers to its former glory, the San Francisco Parks Alliance started a fundraising campaign to completely renovate the building.

About $25 million was spent to complete this project between 1999 and 2003 and it was reopened to the public shortly after.

Conservatory of Flowers architecture
The conservatory in recent times / Wiki Commons

More interesting facts about the Conservatory of Flowers

6. The materials to build the Conservatory of Flowers were originally scheduled to be used to build a greenhouse in San Jose, a city near California.

They were purchased by a real estate investor named James Lick. He passed away in 1876 and the glass panes were used to build the greenhouse in San Francisco instead.

Conservatory of Flowers facts
An amazing view of the Conservatory / David Ohmer / Wiki Commons

7. The 33 tonnes of glass purchased by James Lick came from New York City. They were transported to the San Francisco Bay Area by a boat that traveled around Cape Horn in the utmost southern part of South America. Today, the greenhouse consists of 16,800 window panes.

8. Little is known about the original architect of the greenhouse. A document that was written by a man named Arthur S. Bugbee in 1957 at the San Francisco Public Library indicates that Samual Charles Bugbee was the architect.

This obscure architect also designed the Presbyterian Church in Mendocino, a church designed in the Gothic Revival architectural style.

Mendocino Church
An amazing view of the church in Mendocino / Nelson Minar / Wiki Commons

9. The E-shaped design of the greenhouse features a central dome that reaches a height of 60 feet (18 meters) above the ground below.

This octagonal room can be reached via a glass-covered vestibule. The central space of the greenhouse is adjoined by symmetrical wings on both sides.

Conservatory of Flowers entrance
The entrance of the Conservatory / Burkhard Mücke / Wiki Commons

10. The architectural design of the Conservatory has been admired ever since it first opened its doors in the year 1879. Today, it’s still the oldest municipal wooden conservatory in the country.

11. Another remarkable record held by the Conservatory of Flowers is the fact that it’s the oldest building inside Golden Gate Park.

12. The historical importance of the greenhouse has been recognized on multiple levels, including national.

It’s not only a California Historical Landmark and a San Francisco Designated Landmark but it was also added to the the California Register of Historical Places and the National Register of Historic Places.

Conservatory of Flowers fun facts
The COnservatory and surrounding park area / Gregory Varnum / Wiki Commons