SAN FRANCISCO The snakes will be slipped into socks that can be knotted and tucked into boxes. The penguins will be coaxed into dog kennels.
The clown fish will be scooped into plastic bags of water, carefully loaded into plastic foam coolers and trucked across town, joining a menagerie of 5,400 fish and other animals taking shelter in a downtown warehouse.
The venerable California Acad-emy of Sciences is shutting its doors Dec. 31, and its 18 million specimens, alive and long, long dead, are being moved. The old cement building, a fixture in Golden Gate Park since 1916, will be razed to make way for a new $370 million structure, a marvel of eco-friendly design.
By 2008, the new glass and steel structure should be complete, taking advantage of natural forces such as sun, wind and rain to power everything from ventilation to flush toilets. Its roof will be covered with native plants that reduce rain runoff and provide insulation.
Two immense globes a new planetarium and a 72-foot-high glass sphere will preside over the 370,000-square-foot structure, allowing visitors to gaze at stars or at the massive, towering trunks of a living, breathing Amazonian rain forest.
Between the Academy's closing day and the opening of the temporary museum in spring 2004, the staff will have to move a vast assortment of live animals, almost 13 million dried bugs, 281,000 snake skins, and 200,000 jars of fish bones, some of which date back to the early 1900s.
About 90 percent of the live animals are being kept, including Boccalo, a huge, 150-pound sea bass that must be lifted by stretcher into a tank on a flatbed truck for the cross-town trip. Some will make longer journeys nurse sharks are headed to a Denver aquarium, the bat rays may end up in Baltimore and the alligators are retiring to Florida.
The Academy's scientific achievements outgrew its limited exhibition space long ago. The staff lends specimens and illustrations to researchers around the world and sponsors new expeditions as far as Madagascar and China. But specimen jars sent in by scientists and backyard explorers hoping to have discovered new species get stuffed onto packed shelves beneath the floors. One entire exhibit hall has been closed since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Just one percent of the collection, 12,000 items, have been seen by the public.
The new space will be more flexible, allowing for changing displays on themes such as evolution and human cultures, and tours through research labs where visitors can view the latest specimens from Burma or the San Francisco Bay.
''A lot of people perceive the Academy as not changing. The exhibits are very static,'' said Patrick Kociolek, the Academy's executive director. ''We're trying to create a system where even the aquarium can change, so that depending on what's news, or discoveries, we can bring things to the public floor.''
New features will include a 225,000-gallon Philippine coral reef that dwarfs its 6,000-gallon original. The enclosed rain forest will have four levels that take visitors on a journey from the swampy forest floor to a leafy canopy full of butterflies. The other sphere updates the beloved old Morrison planetarium, showing stars on the inside while images projected on the outside demonstrate population change and continental drift.
Architect Renzo Piano won the Pritzker Prize the equivalent of architecture's Nobel in 1998 for his work on projects like Japan's Kansai airport and the Pompidou Center in Paris. His newest creation is one of 10 projects to be built under the city's 1998 Resource Efficient Building Ordinance, which promotes ''green'' uses of natural light and energy.
The tops of the spheres and several other raised ''bubbles'' on the plant-covered roof will mimic the rolling hills of the surrounding park. Rooftop slats will direct fresh breezes into the building, while glazed glass facades filter light into exhibits, offices and research spaces.
It should use 40 percent less energy as other buildings its size.
''We hope it will be an awe-inspiring experience for people, being in the building itself,'' Kociolek said.
The Academy could use a little awe. Founded in 1853, it is one of the nation's largest and oldest natural history museums. Hundreds of international researchers study its collections, which are overseen by about thirty Ph.D.-level scientists. Its publications herald discoveries in taxonomy, biogeography and natural history.
But despite its scientific merits, the Academy's attendance has declined by 20 percent over the last two decades, a fate other well-known museums have avoided by undergoing major renovations.
Chicago's Shedd Aquarium and New York's American Natural History Museum, both spent millions of dollars in the past decade on new exhibits to attract more paying visitors. Shedd's new $45 million Wild Reef took eight years to build and supports more than 1 million creatures. The American History Museum in New York spent $210 million to replace its old planetarium with the new Rose Center planetarium.
When San Francisco's new museum is completed with $130 million in public funds and the rest in private donations it won't be the first time the Academy has risen from the rubble. The 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed the original building on Market Street. A wooly mammoth tusk was one of the few specimens that survived the fire.
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