Saturday, May 18, 2024

San Diego Natural History Museum: We don’t feel a day over 149

by Patricia Frischer


Natural History Museum, Balboa Park

In 1875, group of naturalists in San Diego got together to study and share their love of their home.  Obviously, this in not because the museum building is 150 years old. We know that the actual site of the current museum was used in the 1915 Exposition as a Civic Auditorium (which was originally called the Southern California Counties Building).  It burned down, embarrassingly, while hosting a fireman’s ball! The current building was designed by William Templeton Johnson in 1930 and built in 1933. You can see the animal motifs he used on the front of the entrance.

Photo of 1915 Southern California Counties Building
Image Courtesy of San Diego History Center 

Blue print plans of the new building held in the Natural History Museum Library

detail of the current building

I learned this by visiting a library on the third floor of the museum that I didn’t even know existed. Many artists visit this museum to reference the collection of objects. You can draw an animal which won’t move since it is preserved or be inspired by the colors and shapes of exotic stones.  But there are 56,000 volumes in the library with endless illustrations of plants and research information to stimulate and entertain you.


John James Audubon, The Birds of America, 1858-1860

This year we say Happy 150th birthday to the San Diego Natural History Museum. Visit the site for a whole list of birthday events in 2024 and continue to use this resource to enhance your art and learn about how our environments need to be protected and preserved. 

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