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Abloom again in San Francisco

In Golden Gate Park, the 1879-vintage Conservatory of Flowers is to reopen Saturday after extensive renovation.

September 14, 2003|Jane Engle | Times Staff Writer

After eight years and $25 million worth of work, the Conservatory of Flowers, one of the jewels of San Francisco, is to reopen this week in Golden Gate Park. Besides a rebuilt structure, visitors will find new horticultural and botanical displays.

The 1879-vintage domed greenhouse, covered with 10,800 glass panes and stretching nearly the length of a football field, closed after it was struck by a 100-mph windstorm in 1995. It had been drawing about 16 million visitors a year.

Although much of the structure and collection survived, the conservatory was rebuilt anyway when engineers discovered its wooden framework was rotting, said director Scott Medbury.

The task was more difficult than it originally seemed. There were no longer plans available for the greenhouse, which had been built from a kit. After the 1995 storm, private citizens donated funds that kick-started an extended campaign to finance the rebuilding.

Engineers spent a year just studying the greenhouse, which in the past had been damaged by fire and closed from 1933 to 1946 because of structural instability. They decided, for safety reasons, to add steel to the structure and to glaze it with laminated (safety) glass instead of the original plate glass, Medbury said.

The reinstalled collection emphasizes tropical plants, including more than 100 specimens imported from Florida. The conservatory's unusual Dracula orchid collection, drawn from South America's Andes, will be fully displayed for the first time.

There will also be sections on highland and lowland tropicals, aquatic plants and potted plants.

Another gallery will be devoted to temporary shows. The first one will focus on plant pollination, using flamboyant and educational displays, Medbury said.

The Conservatory of Flowers is to reopen Saturday. Admission will be $5 for adults; $3 for seniors older than 65 and youths 12 to 17; $1.50 for ages 5 to 11; free for children 4 and younger. The hours will be 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays; closed Mondays and major holidays. On opening day, the hours will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; timed entry tickets will be sold. (415) 666-7001,

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