San Francisco's Exploratorium is back open for business at its new waterfront location.
Following 44 years in the dim halls of the Palace of Fine Arts, the beloved science museum officially opened the doors of its new 330,000 square foot, glass-walled digs in a transformed finger of Pier 15 Wednesday morning.
The Exploratorium hosted its official Grand Opening celebration at 9 a.m. and opened the doors to the public at 10 a.m. The first 200 people got in for free.
Mayor Ed Lee was among the first in line. He said he could barely contain his excitement about the new museum. "It's been one of our city's treasured educational and cultural centers for over 40 years," Lee said.
Lee placed a metal ring around the top of a bronze bell that was cast at the Oakland-based Crucible metal works studio by artist Nick DiPhillipo. The bell will become part of the Exploratorium's tradition to announce the opening and closing each day with a bell-ringing.
Lt Gov. Gavin Newsom was also among the early fans of the Exploratorium's new digs. He called it "spectacular" and recalled visiting the old space at the Palace of Fine Arts and getting lost in the endless experiments, science stations and games. Newsom encouraged adults and children alike to continue the tradition of "curiosity, collaboration, and creativity" that the Exploratorium promotes.
Tickets are $25 for adults, $19 for teens. Children younger than 5 years old get in free.
The Exploratorium is also going to be open on Thursday evenings for some adult only touring. That "adult happy hour" is $15 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and you have to be 18-years-old to get in.
For the next phase of its journey, the museum brought along hundreds of its strange science contraptions from the old space, while creating 150 new ones for the concrete and steel pier.
The stump of a large 330-year old Douglas Fir tree salvaged from Olema sat in one of the galleries. Visitors were encouraged to touch its bark which was already flaking off in chunks, a week before the museum's official opening.
"We sort of anticipate a slow evolution of the tree," said artist Michael Brown, "as it sort of gets picked at by the visitors."
In an exploration station, visitors got to eyeball a young woman dissecting an eyeball from a cow. In another corner of the massive building, people gazed into a giant parabolic mirror which made images look as though they were hovering in space.
"One of the most satisfying things to hear is the early previews," said Exploratorium executive director Dennis Bartels. "Everyone says we kept the spirit and the culture, and even the quirkiness and the funk."
The museum is also taking cues from its new location, thrust out into the bay with water lapping at all sides.
A healthy amount of the exhibits are devoted to studying the bay's tides, currents and biology. In a room the museum dubbed the classroom, a contraption called the Wired Pier kept a running log of Bay tides and water quality.
"The Wired Pier is a platform for us to do research working with local researchers and NOAA," said project manager Mary Miller, "to really understand what's happening; the dynamics of the bay waters, the surface currents, the tides."
Those exhibits Mother Nature didn't create, the museum's team of tinkerers were racing to complete.
The museum's workshop was arranged in full view of visitors, just as it was when Frank Oppenheimer founded the Exploratorium in the Palace of Fine Arts more than four decades ago. A few feet from the shop, a tall Tinkerer's mechanical clock extended its dial as a mallet struck a gong to mark the hour.
Even as the Exploratorium held previews in recent days, workers in hard hats were still scurrying to finish the last minute details.
Still, it may be one of the few remodeling projects, people were happy to acknowledge, will probably never end.
"It will always be a constantly evolving institution," said Brown, "We're always making new exhibits, new experiences."