In honor of Balboa Park’s Centennial Celebration, we will feature some of the park’s greatest attractions with a stop at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Founded in 1874, the San Diego Society of Natural History is the oldest scientific institution in Southern California. Not much happened in the early years, but the members did create a weather station and petitioned to create Torrey Pines State Reserve.
In June of 1912, the members met in the Hotel Cecil on 6th Avenue and few exhibits were installed in a single room and an alcove. The society had opened its first museum! In 1917, the society purchased a vacant building from the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. The museum occupied three different buildings in Balboa Park before they even celebrated their 50th anniversary and finally moved into today’s location, designed by San Diego’s leading architect of the time, William T. Johnson. The $175,000 Natural History Museum building was formally dedicated on January 14, 1933.
In 1943, the United States Navy took over the Natural History Museum for hospital use, becoming the infectious diseases ward. Some renovations took place in the facility, including the addition of an elevator designed to handle hospital gurneys and a nurses’ station between floors. Both features remain in use today. Once the staff was allowed to reoccupy the building, a major renovation took place and the board adopted a firm policy to restrict collections to the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico.
In April 2001, the new construction more than doubled the size of the old building from 65,000 square feet of useable space to 150,000 square feet.
The museum presently houses a collection of permanent displays as well as other fascinating exhibits which constantly change and evolve – at present Coast to Cactus in Southern California in honor of the 100 year anniversary Centennial Celebration. More praiseworthy exhibits currently featured include: Birds of the World, Skulls, Walking With Dinosaurs, Ocean Oasis, and Tiny Giants.
While you are at the San Diego Natural History Museum, stop and admire the spectacular tree outside the museum’s north entrance. It’s the iconic Moreton Bay Fig Tree, which—like most of the other large trees in the Prado area of Balboa Park—was planted in preparation for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Since it was a few years old when it was planted in 1914, its age should probably be computed from about 1910, making this majestic tree more than 100 years old today.
For more information and program times and dates visit: BalboaPark.org
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