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How the Glorious San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers Overcame the Odds to See the 21st Century

In San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, you may stumble upon a Japanese Garden, a cluster of museums and even a pair of Dutch-style windmills. One of the most beloved structures in the 1,000-plus acre park is also one of the oldest. The Conservatory of Flowers is one of the largest conservatories in the U.S., as well as one of few large Victorian greenhouses in the United States. 

According to the Nob Hill Gazette, “The San Francisco conservatory came to be thanks to a whim of the extremely wealthy and deeply eccentric James Lick. Lick had acquired two conservatories in kit form, both modeled after the famous 1848 Palm House in London’s Kew Gardens. He intended to leave one of them to the city of San Jose. But when he read an article in a local paper criticizing his shabby dress, he changed his mind and left the conservatory crated up. (San Jose got off easy compared to Lick’s son. According to The Generous Miser, a biography by Lick’s great-grandniece, Rosemary Lick, Lick cut his son, John Lick, almost entirely out of his will because the younger Lick had failed to look after his father’s parrot, Lennie.)

“After James Lick died in 1876, 27 prominent San Francisco citizens — including William AlvordLeland Stanford and Charles Crocker — bought the crated-up conservatory and offered it as a gift to the park. A site was chosen on a gentle slope overlooking Conservatory Valley, the state legislature appropriated funds to erect the structure, and the construction work was carried out in 1878 by the New York greenhouse firm of Lord & Burnham.”Despite earthquakes, fire, windstorms and several closures during its more than 150-year history, the Conservatory survives today thank to the generosity of supporters, both locally and outside California. You can read more about the building’s legacy at by visiting

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