Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate National Park

San Francisco, California | C.1880

Photo Credit: Tom Fake

Situated in the iconic Golden Gate National Park in San Francisco, the stunning Conservatory of Flowers is the oldest public wood-and-glass conservatory in all of North America. The conservatory was built thanks to the wealthy James Lick, who acquired two conservatories in kit form. The conservatories were modeled after the Palm House in London’s Kew Gardens. The 33 tons of glass were shipped by boat from New York, around Chile’s Cape Horn, and up to San Francisco Bay. The two kits were going to be assembled on site: one in San Jose and one in San Francisco. However, when an article in a San Jose newspaper criticized Lick’s “shabby dress,” he decided not to construct one there. Lick left the second kit crated up. After his death, the materials from the second kit were donated to the City of San Francisco. Sadly, one of the steamboats used to transport building materials sank, but it’s believed the glass that did make it to San Francisco was then used for other structures around the park.

Throughout its history, the conservatory has endured two fires, an earthquake, and the Bay Area’s worst windstorm. Luckily, all restoration efforts were successful. Today, the conservatory is made up of 16,800 window panes and is home to roughly 1,700 plant varieties. However, don’t let its beautiful, Victorian exterior fool you: inside, the conservatory houses numerous exotic plants, including some carnivorous plants! Watch your fingers!

Written By: Ellie Hoffman

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