Sunday, November 03, 2013
Free Day at the California Academy of Sciences
The newly reconstructed California Academy of Sciences museum in Golden Gate Park opened five years ago, but yesterday was my first visit for a number of reasons.
First off, the $29.95 admission price always struck me as outrageously expensive, especially for a publicly funded institution. However, there are biannual San Francisco neighborhood free admission weekends sponsored by Target, depending on the zip code in which you live, and we took advantage of our 94102 status on Saturday. (Click here for the online schedule.)
I also have a problem with stuffed dead animals, which the old version of the museum used to feature. Taxidermy has always seemed disrespectful to me. The scene in the original Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston rushes through a natural sciences museum and passes by a stuffed human on display was an ethically mind altering moment in adolescence.
The new version of the Academy features live animals rather than dead ones. I feel similarly queasy about animals in captivity, avoiding zoos altogether, but this new space is exquisitely designed and doesn't feel as oppressive as most jails for animals. In fact, the new rainforest dome under the "living roof" is one of the most beautiful spaces ever constructed. It features a winding three-story ramp, along with an entrance and exit through airlocks to control the warm humidity and keep the psychedelically bright butterflies from escaping.
The bottom of the fantasy rainforest features an aquarium with a transparent floor where you can watch exotic aquatic creatures swimming over people's heads who are wandering through the underground Steinhart Aquarium.
There were more children than adults running around the very full museum on Saturday, and it's a perfect place for them, supervised by a mostly young, relaxed staff. The biggest irritation is trying to navigate between a veritable freeway of SUV Strollers, but after a while even that becomes part of the ride.
In a small theater upstairs, Opera Parallele and a large group of students from Potrero Hill's Daniel Webster Elementary School were performing The Spider's Revenge, a children's opera by the contemporary Scottish composer Peter Maxwell Davies. The performers, costumes, and musicians looked enchanting, but I was driven out of the show by parents with flash cameras who kept up an insistent strobe that essentially wrecked their own childrens' production. I hope it is performed again, this time with a plea to turn off all electronic devices.