First open to the public in 1879, the 12,000 square foot Conservatory is the oldest surviving municipal wood and glass greenhouse in the United States. The Conservatory, which began as a prefabricated kit, was first ordered by James Lick, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist who made his fortune in real estate. Lick died before it was assembled and the parts remained in their shipping crates on his estate in Santa Clara. Put up for sale by the trustees of his estate, the components were purchased in 1877 by a group of 27 San Francisco businessmen and was offered to the City to be built in Golden Gate Park.
In 1879 Conservatory opened to the public. In 1883 A boiler explosion destroyed the main dome, which was rebuilt even taller than the original, but the Conservatory survives the 1906 earthquake intact. During the early to mid 20th century the Conservatory of Flowers was challenged by: accidents, economics and maintenance issues. After World War II and several boiler explosions that deemed the building structually unsound, the Conservatory finally reopened to the public. From 1964-1981 much of the work at the Conservatory was spent upgrading and maintaining this elegant wooden structure.
In early 1998, the Conservatory of Flowers was placed on the 100 most Endangered World Monuments list by the World Monuments Fund. The National Trust for Historic Preservation adopted the Conservatory into its Save America's Treasures program, launched as part of First Lady Hillary Clinton's Millennium Council projects. Publicity from these efforts eventually led to a fundraising campaign led by the San Francisco Parks Alliance to raise the $25 million dollars for the rehabilitation, restoration, and stabilization of the Conservatory. The construction lasted from 1999 until 2003.
The Conservatory of Flower's mission is to cultivate, conserve, and interpret a distinctive tropical collection of flowers and plants through an outstanding visitor experience that educates and connects people to plants and their importance to our planet.