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It's a Jungle in Here!

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The San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers Prepares to Reopen

SAN FRANCISCO (July 8, 2003) - Eight years after a Pacific storm with winds of over 100 mph severely damaged San Francisco's Conservatory of Flowers, rehabilitation of this Victorian jewel is nearing completion. On Saturday, September 20, 2003 the Conservatory officially reopens to the public with a grand celebration for both residents and visitors.

Opened in 1879, the wood and glass greenhouse is designated as a city, state and national historic landmark and was one of the 100 most endangered sites of the World Monuments Fund. It is a civil engineering landmark as well, serving as one of the few examples of a Victorian-era prefabricated building (it was a kit of parts).

After the storm, spontaneous donations from private citizens kick started what would become a $25 million rehabilitation effort. The Campaign to Save the Conservatory received a major boost in 1998, when First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the building as part of the White House's "Save America's Treasures" project, of which the Conservatory is a flagship effort.

The rehabilitation process was challenging, as there were no original drawings to consult, and it was unclear whether this kit could be dismantled and reassembled. To top it off, no one really had any idea of the provenance for the building (legends trace it variously to Europe or the eastern US). Whatever information may have existed likely burned in the fire following the 1906 earthquake.

What is known is that James Lick, a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in real estate, ordered the greenhouse for his Santa Clara Valley estate. Unfortunately, Lick died before it was ever erected. Put up for sale by his trustees, the kit was purchased in 1878 by a group of prominent San Franciscans who offered it to the City of San Francisco for use in Golden Gate Park.

Ever since the Conservatory opened to the public in 1879, it has been a San Francisco icon. An outing in Golden Gate Park wasn't complete without a visit to its tropical splendors. In fact, the Conservatory has always been the most visited site in Golden Gate Park and is the most photographed landmark in the City after the Golden Gate Bridge.

When the Conservatory reopens in September, the public will not only find a beautifully restored building, but a reinvented institution as well. An extraordinary $4 million interior program of horticultural and botanical displays have been created to inspire visitors young and old to appreciate and conserve this earth's extraordinary biodiversity and tropical flora. This is a spectacular living museum of rare and beautiful tropical plants under glass.

From Borneo to Bolivia, the 1500 species of plants at the Conservatory represent unusual flora from more than 50 countries around the world. Perhaps the most intriguing group of plants at the Conservatory is the famous collection of Dracula orchids, regarded as the world's best public collection. These monstrous beauties will be a primary feature of the HIGHLAND TROPICS exhibit, where the Conservatory's world-famous collection of high-elevation orchids will be displayed for the first time, along with mosses, ferns, vines and stunted trees of tropical mountaintops.

Other galleries include the LOWLAND TROPICS exhibit that will house a century-old giant philodendron as well as a host of food-producing tropical plants such as cacao, allspice, cashew and coffee. In the AQUATIC PLANTS gallery, visitors walk over a sparkling glass bridge to view lilies large enough to hold up a child floating on ponds. Here visitors can also feast their eyes on the Conservatory's extensive collection of carnivorous plants.

Other exhibits include the POTTED PLANTS gallery that will feature many flowering favorites such as gloxinias and will house an extensive array of large containers and the Conservatory's brand new SPECIAL EXHIBITS gallery where there will always be something new for repeat visitors. Kicking off this series of educational blockbusters will be a powered-by-flower exhibit about plant pollination. For more information about the Conservatory of Flowers, please visit: www.conservatoryofflowers.org.