Inside look at the San Francisco Exploratorium's move to Pier 15

March 8, 2013 7:43:50 PM PST
The Exploratorium shut its doors at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco in January. And now the staff is racing to get ready for opening day at their new building April 17. But moving a beloved hands-on science museum is tricky. ABC7 News has an inside look at what it takes.

Here's a puzzle for you -- you've got 43 years of history, 600 exhibits, a sprinkling of exotic creatures, and back rooms crammed with stuff that might someday come in handy. How many trucks, people and hours will it take to move to a new museum?

Now add in the fact that your new building is a historic pier undergoing top to bottom renovation, and it's not quite finished. When you're ready to give up, call Valerie Lagueaux. She's a moving expert.

Lagueaux and the Exploratorium moving team determined they could move sixty exhibits a day. Then they factored in packing time, thousands of feet of plastic wrap, carts, blankets, and some serious labeling skills to make sure that everything ended up in the right place.

"We choreographed the move of the exhibits to work with the phasing of the construction completion," Lagueaux said.

The final answer -- it took 9,000 man hours and 200 truckloads to move the museum in two months; mixed in to all that were special challenges, including huge pieces of a 250 year old tree and a giant wind harp that used to make music.

"When we built the harp it was well above the tree line," outdoor exhibit curator Shawn Lani said. "But over the last 20 years the Eucalyptus have done so well, they kind of grew up and started to block the wind."

The roof access is a steep ladder, not suitable for hauling down a harp. So they brought in a crane to do the job. It took a while to get the harp loose.

Then suddenly it was cruising through the air, getting a last look over Chrissy Field before it ends up at its new home, where the harp will be set up once again to catch the wind.

Another challenge came from a tornado exhibit. It's a longtime visitor favorite, but it's finicky.

The tornado arrived at the new building in pieces. Peter Scheidl is the man who has to make it work. But first they have to make sure it will fit, with the top section tucked in between the pipes in the ceiling.

"Can anyone get a view, a visual on like, how close?" asked Scheidl.

It was too close. The 18-foot exhibit is just a little too high for the space.

"So we have to get creative," Scheidl said.

After many hours of assembling, re-assembling, moving, and cutting, the exhibit is finally in its proper position. Now they have to get the tornado to form. The vapor is created by an ultra-sonic transducer in the bottom of the exhibit.

"They are tiny little water droplets that still remain suspended like a gas," Scheidl said.

The vapor looks like steam, but it's not hot. Once the vapor is rising the team has to figure out where to place big Plexiglass panels to force the air currents to form a tornado shape.

"This could be hours of tweaking and testing," Scheidl said.

Pretty quickly they know it is going to work, but it will take more time to make the tornado consistent.

Now that they have the old exhibits in place, the staff attention is focused on lots of new exhibits .

This Sunday the Exploratorium is presenting a free pre-opening street festival. They will have special exhibits on trucks in several spots around San Francisco, and a big finale at the new building at Pier 15. For details about this weekend's event, click here.

written and produced by Jennifer Olney


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