San Diego Natural History Museum

San Diego Natural History Museum

The San Diego Natural History Museum was founded in 1874 as the San Diego Society of Natural History. The present location of the museum in San Diego's Balboa Park was dedicated on January 14, 1933. [ [ San Diego Natural History Museum official website] ]

It is the second oldest scientific institution west of the Mississippi and the oldest in Southern California. The newest addition to the museum was dedicated in April 2001, doubling exhibit space.


First fifty years

Founded in 1874, the San Diego Society of Natural History is the oldest scientific institution in southern California, and the second oldest west of the Mississippi. In its initial years, the Society was the region's primary source of scientific culture, serving a small but growing community eager for information about its natural resources. Early society members established a weather station, petitioned to create Torrey Pines State Reserve, and garnered support for the new San Diego Zoological Society.

In June 1912, the Society met for the first time in its new quarters in the Hotel Cecil, recently built on Sixth Street in San Diego. Later that same month exhibits created by Frank and Kate Stephens were installed in a single room and adjoining alcove, and were open to the public several afternoons each week. The Society had opened its first museum.

In 1917, the Society purchased a vacant Balboa Park building from the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Here the Society moved its growing collections and library to create the San Diego Natural History Museum. The Board defined its commitment "to educate and help people know and love nature" and began a variety of educational programs, many of them using specimens from museum collections in city and county schools.

The museum occupied three different buildings in Balboa Park before celebrating its 50th anniversary. Community leaders recognized the need for a permanent museum of adequate size. San Diego's leading architect, William Templeton Johnson (1877-1957) was commissioned by the Society of Natural History to design its new museum building on Balboa Park's East Prado. Johnson had earned his reputation with his design of the Fine Arts Gallery (now the San Diego Museum of Art) and the downtown San Diego Trust & Savings Bank, among other buildings.

World War II

The Society was notified on March 5, 1943, that the United States Navy wished to take over the Natural History Museum for hospital use at once, becoming the infectious diseases ward. Some renovation 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. The U. S. Navy takeover of the museum building for the duration of the war resulted in damage to the collections, exhibits, and the building itself. [Engstrand, Iris & Bullard, Anne , "Inspired by Nature: The San Diego Natural History Museum after 125 Years", San Diego Society of Natural History, ISBN 9780918969040]

The main library and its librarian were moved to San Diego State College; the rest of the treasured and fragile exhibits were hastily packed, crated and moved into a total of 32 separate places. Exhibits too large to be moved were stuffed into the north wing on the main floor. A major renovation commenced once staff was allowed to reoccupy the building. Forced to look at all collections and exhibits in this rehabilitation process, the board adopted a firm policy to restrict collections to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The museum continued its steady growth with post-war San Diego, despite periods of financial stress. Staff upheld professional practices regardless of limited resources, and the American Association of Museums accredited the Museum in 1974.

Present building

The construction of the new headquarters was made possible through a grant of $125,000 from Ellen Browning Scripps, and by public subscription. However, the full amount needed for the building could not be raised in the Depression years. Only the first unit of the building, at the south end of the lot, and one wing extending toward the north, could be built. The north and east exterior facades were left plain as temporary walls slated for future expansion, and remained so for sixty years.

The new $175,000 Natural History Museum building was formally dedicated on January 14, 1933.

Completed and dedicated in March, 2001, new construction more than doubled the size of the old building, from 65,000 square feet of usable space to approximately 150,000 square feet. The expansion provided new space for the Museum's research, educational, and administrative activities. Architects for the expansion were Dick Bundy and David Thompson.


Current Exhibitions

"Fossil Mysteries" A Permanent Exhibition

One of the Museum's current exhibitions is "Fossil Mysteries". From dinosaurs to mastodons, discover the rich fossil history of our region. In this major exhibition, created by the Museum, ponder a mystery, examine the strong fossil evidence from the Museum's collection, and use scientific tools to discover answers. Traveling through a 75-million-year timeline, from the age of dinosaurs to the Ice Ages, experience an unfolding of the prehistory of southern California and Baja California, Mexico. []

"Aerial Portraits of the American West: Photographs by John Shelton" May 11–November 2, 2008

This photography exhibition, a retrospective of Shelton’s work, marks the first time works by the legendary geologist will be exhibited for the public. A geologist filled with a love for music and machines, John Shelton is best known for his pioneering aerial photography. Formerly an associate professor of geology at Pomona College, he has always been intensely interested in the process of learning. Shelton’s love and knowledge of flying enabled him to reveal geologic features and processes through his aerial photographs of wondrous landscapes. His aerial photographs of North America are especially valuable today, when diminishing air quality makes some of his shots irreplaceable.

"Enraptured: Works by Mitch Dobrowner" May 17–August 3, 2008

Mitch Dobrowner is an accomplished black-and-white, fine-art photographer who captures otherworldly images of the Earth. To view a Dobrowner photograph is to enter a dramatic realm filled with mystery, passion and eerie beauty. Dobrowner has exhibited his fine-art photography through galleries in California, Texas, Colorado, and Maryland, as well as overseas in Paris, France. From infrared images of luminescent foliage to rockscapes beneath furious skies, Dobrowners work brings one to another sphere of existence. The Ordover Gallery at the San Diego Natural History Museum will also show glass sculpture by Dick Ditore, photographs by Richard Garrod and Robert Walter, and a selection of works by other Gallery artists.

Past Exhibitions

"Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition"From June 29­-January 6, 2008, The San Diego Natural History Museum's exhibition Dead Sea Scrolls is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of Dead Sea Scrolls ever assembled. Twenty-four Dead Sea Scrolls—10 exhibited for the first time ever were on display over the course of the exhibition. Created by the Museum, this exhibition will not travel. [ Read what experts have to say]

The Dead Sea Scrolls—objects of great mystery, intrigue and significance, are widely acknowledged to be among the greatest archaeological treasures ever discovered. The scrolls link us to the ancient Middle East and to the formative years of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Learn more about the history of the scrolls here.

The exhibit included:

* Authentic Dead Sea Scrolls, with interpretations and translation of text;
* Ancient, illuminated manuscripts;
* ;
* Authentic artifacts and original excavation equipment;
* Panoramic photography;
* Scientific exploration.cite web |url= |title=SDNHM: Dead Sea Scrolls, 2007 Exhibition |accessdate=2007-11-27 |format= |work=]

Twelve of the scrolls have been provided by Israel and three lent by Jordan. Three months into the exhibit, the Israel Antiquities Authority exchanged these for twelve others, including the Deuteronomy manuscript that contains the Ten Commandments.

"A Day in Pompeii"

From February 15-June 15, 2008, the Museum hosted "A Day in Pompeii".

Pompeii is a ruined Roman city near modern Naples, Italy. Along with surrounding communities, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried during a catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mt. Vesuvius in August 79 CE.

The volcano totally buried Pompeii with ash and pumice. After being lost for nearly 1700 years, the city was accidentally rediscovered in 1748. Since then, its excavation has provided extraordinary insight into the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire. Today, it is a popular tourist attraction in Italy and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Much like San Diego, Pompeii was a bustling, beautiful port city popular with tourists. Its industries included wine, pottery, and agriculture.

"A Day in Pompeii" and its rarely toured artifacts will travel to only four American cities. With over 250 authentic artifacts, stunning frescos, computer-generated reconstructions, and more, this exhibition reveals a vibrant existence in Pompeii and the city’s abrupt end.

Other Museum Features

Charmaine and Maurice Kaplan Theatera 300-seat, giant-screen theater with multiple capabilities and state-of-the-art acoustics and technology.

"Ocean Oasis"Ongoing38 minutes; [ Film schedule]

Take a fascinating journey into two remarkably different, but inextricably linked worlds—Mexico's Sea of Cortés and the Baja California desert. Ocean Oasis, a giant-screen film, mesmerizes audiences as they witness the beauty of life in Baja California's rich waters and seemingly barren land.

"Planet Earth: Fresh Water"Opened June 16, 200850 minutes; [ Film schedule]

Follow rivers as they course from mountain to the sea, nourishing unique and dramatic wildlife. From the world's deepest lake inhabited by the only species of freshwater seal to a stunning look at the world’s highest waterfall, Fresh Water offers a unique perspective on the secret lives teeming in our purest waters. Part of the acclaimed Planet Earth series.

Educational Programs

To coincide with the Museum's mission statement in regards to education, the Museum offeres a wide variety of classes, trips, and lectures.


Scientists at the Museum are actively engaged in research programs and regularly publish their research in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

The extensive scientific collections of the [ Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias] represent a permanent record of our natural heritage. They contain materials that support the research of many scientific disciplines, including those working to define and preserve biodiversity and monitor global change.

Scientific collections are a continuing investment by society in the effort to understand the natural world. In the face of disappearing habitats, species extinctions, and the destruction of geological and paleontological sites, the specimens in our collections have become nonrenewable resources.

Special Events

Guests enter into the Sefton Grand Atrium—a stunning and versatile space with a four-story translucent ceiling and granite floors that provides the backdrop to a memorable event. The open spaces encourage guests to explore the Museum's galleries, full of fossils, artifacts and exhibitions that illustrate the science and beauty of nature.


External links

* [ Official website]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Natural History Museum (disambiguation) — The Natural History Museum may be: Natural History Museum, London, UK Natural History Museum at Tring, UK Natural History Museum of Bern, Switzerland Natural History Museum of Crete, Greece Natural History Museum of Geneva, Switzerland Natural… …   Wikipedia

  • San Diego — This article is about the city in California. For the metropolitan area, see San Diego metropolitan area. For other meanings of San Diego , see San Diego (disambiguation). San Diego   City   City of San Diego …   Wikipedia

  • San Diego — /san dee ay goh/ a seaport in SW California: naval and marine base. 875,504. * * * City (pop., 2000: 1,223,400) and port, southwestern California, U.S. It is located on San Diego Bay, the site of major naval and military bases. Sighted by the… …   Universalium

  • San Diego and Arizona Railway — Reporting mark SDA Locale California and Mexico Dates of opera …   Wikipedia

  • San Diego–Tijuana — This article is about the international metropolitan region. For the cites of San Diego and Tijuana, see San Diego and Tijuana. Coordinates: 32°32′31.87″N 117°01′46.63″W /  …   Wikipedia

  • San Diego County, California — County of San Diego   County   Seal …   Wikipedia

  • List of natural history museums — Contents 1 Africa 1.1 Botswana 1.2 Canary Islands 1.3 Egypt …   Wikipedia

  • Balboa Park, San Diego, California — Infobox nrhp | name =Balboa Park nrhp type = nhld caption = La Laguna de Las Flores in 1915 nearest city= San Diego, California locmapin = California area = built =1915 architect= Multiple architecture= Mission/spanish Revival, Other designated=… …   Wikipedia

  • Museo de Historia Natural de San Diego — Fachada del Museo Información geográfica País …   Wikipedia Español

  • Culture of San Diego — The culture of San Diego, California, is influenced heavily by American and Mexican cultures due to its position as a border town, its large Hispanic population, and its history as part of Spanish America and Mexico. Contents 1 Tourism 2 Arts 3 …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.