Friday, February 20, 2009

California Academy of Sciences

I finally made my 1st visit to the remodeled California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. My main impression of the day is of the crowds. There's no recession here. Young people, families, tourists & retirees jockeyed for positions at every exhibit. Passes for the planetarium show were gone by the time we arrived in the early afternoon.

The new building is a lot of open spaces, thin columns & glass. My friend thinks it looks fragile. For someone like me who grew up visiting the old museum, there wasn't anything recognizable except for the African hall, the pendulum, & the alligator pool. I'm not sure why penguins now live among the dioramas in the African hall. Claude, the albino alligator, was missing from the alligator pool. A sign said that he had been removed due to illness, which does not bode well.

Inside the Biosphere-like rainforest, I enjoyed spotting frogs, birds & butterflies among the foliage. Maintaining this environment is no doubt a challenge. The painted canvas that hides the elevator tower looks out of place & grubby already. All the kids & lines made it a bit like a visit to Disneyland. I was very impressed by a little girl carefully writing down in a notebook all the animals she observed. Her mother told me that she's not even doing it as homework. A scientist in the making!

The aquarium exhibits have been moved underground & are quite extensive. I was dismayed to see that the two-headed snake, an old favorite, is now a funky-looking skeleton in a jar. It was the saddest moment of the day for me.

At a quarter to five, people were already lining up for the NightLife event, when the museum turns into a nightclub. I stayed for this as well. It's largely a 20s crowd, with drinks & loud music. It got just as packed as during the day.

At the NightLife evening, I did get into the planetarium. The bulbous, industrial-looking Zeiss projector is gone. Instead, it's more like an IMAX movie with a screen that wraps around one's field of vision. I was disappointed by the show, a short presentation reviewing astronomy in the news & ending with a "Powers of Ten"-style zoom out of the galaxy. The show was almost content-free, & the host admitted that he was winging it & that several things didn't go as he expected.

One old reminder of the original planetarium survives. Part of the San Francisco silhouette is on the wall behind the cashier in the children's gift shop. I wonder what they did with that old Zeiss projector.


The Opera Tattler said...

Aren't their penguins African? Spheniscus demersus?

Axel Feldheim said...

I suppose they must be. For some reason it strikes me as strange to see the live animals among the stuffed ones & not in the aquarium instead.

Penguin Cam: