Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

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The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is a natural history museum located on Central Avenue in Pacific Grove, California, USA. It incorporates permanent exhibits which display local plants, animals, geology, and native human populations, as well as a temporary exhibit which changes every few months. In mid-2009, an agreement was signed that transferred operations to a private organization called the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History Foundation.


The Chautauqua (shuh-TAH-kwuh) Literary and Scientific Circle established its Pacific Coast branch in Pacific Grove in 1879. A two-week Chautauqua assembly was held here every summer, featuring lessons, exhibits, lectures, picnics, and concerts. Over the years several members felt the need to have a storeroom and exhibition site for the natural specimens collected. A resolution was made in 1881 to have this accomplished. In 1883, a petition calling for this building was signed by Professor H. B. Norton, Dr. J. H. Wyeth, Dr. C. L. Anderson, Miss Lucy M. Washburn, Miss Mary E. B. Norton, and Professor Josiah Keep. The petition was sent to F. S. Douty, secretary of the Pacific Improvement Company, and a small wooden octagonal building located on Grand Avenue became the new Chautauqua Museum's first home in what is now Jewell Park, across from the museum's current site.

Since the Chautauqua institution was a college, its faculty and students collected many specimens from the surrounding countryside and brought them to the Chautauqua Museum to be exhibited. The first important specimen collections were of shells, sea mosses, evergreen cones, and other land plants. These collections continued to expand as Pacific Grove's population grew. The museum eventually grew large enough that its own management was needed. In 1899 the museum began to be organized, largely by Miss Norton. The Chautauqua donated the museum building and its 2100 specimens to the new organization in July 1900. This organization became the Pacific Grove Museum Association in November 1900. Thomas W. Cowan was its president; Miss Norton, curator; B. A. Eardley, secretary and treasurer; and E. B. Lewis, recording secretary.

The association devoted itself to developing the museum, presenting winter lectures to members for free, and a spring exhibition of natural history and local art. This event was, according to a June 1901 newspaper, a great success: “The beautiful in art and nature and the rare and curious in natural history were well represented at the exhibit of the Pacific Grove Museum Association. … The dingy old structure has been skillfully decorated … and converted into a most charming and inviting spot.”

In 1902, through the influence of Miss Kate Coffin, the Pacific Improvement Company presented the association with the half-block of land where the modern museum stands, along with the buildings which already stood there. These buildings were remodeled into one larger building and the original octagonal building was moved across the street to join this new building. The association now had plenty of room for study, work, and storage, as well as outdoor space to be preserved for its native plants.

By 1904 the museum had started to receive animal specimens. In 1909 the membership of the association numbered about eighty people. However, the museum was poor during this time, getting by from small membership dues, few donations, the selling of some plants, and the giving of entertainments. Many of the museum's specimens were sold to San Francisco shortly after its famous 1906 earthquake. Finally it was decided that the museum would have to be supported by the City of Pacific Grove. The City's ownership of the museum came about in 1917. In 2009 museum operations were leased to a private organization called the Pacific Grove Museum Foundation.

Dr. Ann Lukens donated $5,000 to the museum because of her friendship with Miss Coffin, but the museum's greatest donation was through Pacific Grove citizen Mrs. Lucy Chase. A $14,000 new museum building was constructed in 1932 on its current site. The majority of the money needed for this project was donated by Chase, and the building was opened to the public on December 21, 1932, her ninetieth birthday.

In 1933, some items that would be known as “curios” today began to be removed from the museum in an effort to devote it solely to natural history (though some Pacific Grove historical and artistic artifacts are still held by the Museum -- including photographs by C.K. Tuttle and paintings by Albert DeRome). The American Association of Museums (now the American Alliance of Museums) referred to the museum as the “best of its size in the United States” in 1935.

Permanent exhibits[edit]

The museum houses many permanent exhibits. The main room of the “old wing” created in 1932 is dominated by a display of 409 life-mounted birds representing 291 bird species found in Monterey County. Many of these specimens were mounted by ornithologist and taxidermist Rollo H. Beck. In the center of the room is a formerly mobile trilingual exhibit about the Monarch Butterflies that winter in Pacific Grove each year. Adjacent rooms contain Native American artifacts, about half of which are from Monterey County (the Ohlone, Salinan, and Esselen tribes) and marine mammal artifacts, photographs, and recorded sounds. The second floor contains smaller exhibits about geology, paleontology, mineralogy, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, and mollusks. Below the insect exhibit is the Children's Touch Gallery, on the first floor of the new wing, which contains various hands-on specimens. Located outside of the museum is a native plant garden, which is open all year. Featured are local trees, bushes and wildflowers (when in season).

Temporary exhibits[edit]

The largest room in the new wing is reserved for the various temporary exhibits put on by the museum. These exhibits last from two to six months and vary greatly in subject matter. These exhibits are very often photo galleries. Examples of exhibits include galleries featuring bears, Antarctica, the California Condor, and the Sea of Cortez.

The annual Wildflower Show, organized by the Monterey Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, began in 1962. It is the only temporary exhibit that lasts for only one weekend per year. The spring exhibit displays more than seven hundred Monterey County wildflower species.


The museum provides an on-site education program in which Monterey County schools can schedule field trips to the museum for free, with or without an informational talk from one of the museum staff. There is also an education outreach program if teachers would prefer in-class instruction to a field trip. In these cases, a staff member will come to the school in question at a previously scheduled time, give a lecture about a chosen topic (such as marine mammals or Native Americans), and provide hands-on artifacts from the museum's teaching collection for the students to handle.

Other features[edit]

The Museum Gift Shop is volunteer-run by the Museum Association, with a paid manager. The store features varied merchandise, such as books, clothing, toys, and Monterey County stones and fossils. There is a large polished boulder of Monterey County jade in the front lobby, recovered by famed jade specialist Don Wobber. It is displayed so that hands-on contact with the huge stone is safe for visitors. Outside of the museum is “Sandy,” a life-size sculpture of an adult female Gray Whale. It is considered by many Pacific Grove residents the most popular “exhibit” for younger visitors, as children can often be seen climbing on the whale.


Admission is $8.95 for adults and $5.95 for ages 4-18, children 3 and under are free. Admission is free for everyone the last Saturday of every month. The museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. [1]



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