Exploratorium departs Palace of Fine Arts, new exhibit to open April 17 - SLIDESHOW 

The Sound Column is gone, but the Tactile Dome will live on.

Since 1969, visits to the Exploratorium — the hands-on museum of experience at the Palace of Fine Arts — have been a rite of passage for schoolchildren in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. That ended Wednesday, as more than 5,000 visitors hummed, whirred, buzzed and discovered their way through the museum’s 450 exhibits before the site shut its doors forever at 5 p.m.

But just at the Palace of Fine Arts.

Click on the photo to see the slideshow.

The museum will reopen April 17 at its new home along The Embarcadero at Pier 15. The reclaimed maritime warehouse will allow the museum to expand from 450 exhibits to almost 600, according to spokeswoman Linda Dackman. It will also allow the 500,000 visitors the museum currently draws to have better access via public transportation.

Even if it means saying goodbye to the Sound Column.

The column, a sort of multiple-story storage space built in between a few of the palace’s exterior classical columns, was where Fiona Lu, 7, of Foster City, learned from exhibit guide Whit Martin the difference between sound nodes, where sound waves cancel each other out, and antinodes, where sound waves amplify one another.

Fiona was too busy slapping a sort of stepped-xylophone with a mallet, wrenches and a coat hanger to pine for the soon-bygone days.

“I want to find out more new things when it moves to the pier,” she said.

Along with the Sound Column, some other exhibits — such as the Angel Caryatids optical illusion that greets visitors at the front door — cannot be moved to Pier 15. The majority of the favorites, such as the legendary Tactile Dome, which visitors feel their way through in total darkness, will be present when the Exploratorium reopens.

“It’s sad to see it go,” Supervisor Mark Farrell, who grew up a few blocks away and represents the area on the Board of Supervisors, said Wednesday. “But we understand it’ll be much more accessible and to a bigger audience on the waterfront.”

First-time attendees jostled during the free-admission day Wednesday with longtime visitors, many of whom posted their memories from over the years on small notes along one wall.

But science-seekers missing their Exploratorium fix need not wait long: mobile exhibits will pop up along The Embarcadero, in the Mission, and elsewhere in The City through January. Locations can be found on the Exploratorium’s Facebook page.

After the Exploratorium moves, the cavernous space will be vacant for at least a while. The Recreation and Park Department operates the space and has begun meeting with Marina residents to figure out a suitable new tenant.


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Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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