Conservatory of Flowers

For more than a century,The Conservatory of Flowers has welcomed locals and tourists-alike. The Victorian architecture has quite the history and is the oldest public wood-and-glass conservatory in North America. Not only a San Francisco but also a California and United States landmark, the Conservatory remains one of the most photographed and beloved attractions in San Francisco.


The Conservatory kit was bought by James Lick, an eccentric businessman, piano maker, and successful real estate investor who was a patron of the sciences. It was intended for the City of San Jose, where Lick had built a mansion surrounded by exotic plants imported from South America and around the world. Lick died in 1876 before constructing the conservatory on his estate, and it was put up for sale by his trustees. The kit was then purchased by Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker, who offered it as a gift to the City of San Francisco for use in Golden Gate Park. The Parks Commission accepted the gift and hired Lord & Burnham, a greenhouse manufacturing company from New York, to supervise the erection of the structure. Once open, it contained a large variety of rare and tropical plants, including a giant water lily, Victoria Regia, which at the time was the only known specimen in the United States.


The greenhouse has a central dome rising nearly 60 feet high and arch-shaped wings extending from it for an overall length of 240 feet. The building sits atop a gentle slope overlooking Conservatory Valley. The structural members are articulated through a four-centered or Tudor arch. The conservatory consists of a wood structural skeleton with glass walls set on a raised masonry foundation. The entire structure has a shallow E-shaped plan that is oriented along an east-west axis. The central 60-foot high pavilion is entered through a one-story, glassed-in vestibule with a gable roof on the south side of the pavilion. Flanking the rotunda to the east and west are one-story, symmetrical wings framed by wood arches. Each wing is L-shaped in plan, with cupolas adorning the intersection of the two segments.

Like a fairytale scene, it is the colors, shapes, and presentation of the flowers that draw you closer to this awe-inspiring attraction. With the help of close to 2,000 plant species decorating the exhibits and displays, the Conservatory serves as a botanical beacon for both people of all ages.


Rebecca’s Tip: 

First Tuesdays of every month is free admission day! Labor Day and Memorial Day are holidays and the conservatory is closed.

Posted by: Rebecca White on

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