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St. Louis Science Center

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Title: St. Louis Science Center  
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Subject: Ibn Battuta, IMAX, Forest Park (St. Louis), Gyo Obata, Project Gemini, St. Louis University High School, List of IMAX venues, Peter Kinder, Build-A-Bear Workshop, John McDonnell (businessman)
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St. Louis Science Center

The James S. McDonnell Planetarium, built in 1963 and featuring a thin-shell and hyperboloid structure by Gyo Obata. This building is one of the most distinctive components of the Saint Louis Science Center campus

The Saint Louis Science Center, founded as a planetarium in 1963, is a collection of buildings including a science museum and planetarium in St. Louis, Missouri, on the southeastern corner of Forest Park. With over 750 exhibits in a complex of over 300,000 square feet (28,000 m2), it is among the largest of its type in the country,[1] and according to the Association of Science and Technology Centers, is one of the top 5 science centers in the United States.[2] In 1991, it was the most visited science center in the world.[1] As of 2007, the complex hosts 1.2 million visitors each year, with another 200,000 served through offsite programs at schools and community centers.[3]

The first building of the current complex, the Planetarium, opened in 1963, hosting about 300,000 visitors per year. In 1983, it was combined with an existing Museum of Science and Natural History that had been located in Clayton, Missouri, and the Planetarium was renamed as the Saint Louis Science Center. In 1991, a major expansion increased the size of the facility seven-fold, adding a main building and Omnimax theater across Interstate 64 from the Planetarium. In 1997, an air-supported building, the Exploradome, was added next to the main building, and in 2003, a Community Science Resource Center southeast of the main building was added to the complex. The northern and southern sections of the Science Center are connected via a pedestrian bridge over the interstate, which also has science exhibits, such as radar guns which visitors can use to investigate traffic patterns.[2][1]

Admission to the Science Center is free through a public subsidy from the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District. The Center is one of only two science centers in the United States which offers free general admission.[1]


The roots of the Science Center date back to the mid-1800s, when a group of wealthy and well-traveled businessmen founded the Academy of Science of St. Louis in 1856, along with a museum in which to display their collections of cultural artifacts, scientific items, and collected flora and fauna. Over the next century, this grew into a more formal Museum of Science and Natural History which in 1959 was located in Oak Knoll Park in Clayton, Missouri.

McDonnell Planetarium

Funding for the first structure of the current campus began in 1955, with $1 million of a $110 million city bond issue specified for the construction of a planetarium. Two years were spent surveying locations. The first proposed site, on the northern side of Forest Park near the Jefferson Memorial Building at Lindell and DeBaliviere, was scrapped because of restrictions on subdivisions. The location was changed to the southern part of the park, on the site of the old mounted police station, which was demolished in 1960. The plan was to build a planetarium, science museum, and natural history museum.[4]

The planetarium in 2005.

The Planetarium was designed by Gyo Obata of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum with a unique shape (Obata was later tasked in the 1970s with designing the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.). Architectural Forum magazine described it as, "Looking like some strange craft spun down to earth from outer space... St. Louis's new planetarium perches gracefully on a rise in ... Forest Park".[4] But the bond funding proved insufficient for construction. James Smith McDonnell (1899–1980), an aviation pioneer and co-founder of St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas, an aerospace manufacturer, came to the project's rescue, donating $200,000 for equipment such as the star projector. Opening day was April 1, 1963, and the first star show that month had a capacity audience of more than 400. The building was dedicated was on May 30, 1963. Public interest in the space race was high, as John Glenn had become the first American to orbit the Earth in February 1962. The Science Center recorded more than 100,000 visitors in its first four months. On the day that a full-scale replica of the Apollo space capsule was put on display, 3,000 visitors came through the doors. Over the next several years, average attendance was 300,000 per year. The planetarium broke even during its first year, but then lost $30,000 to $50,000 each year, with McDonnell regularly providing funding assistance. The facility was named after him in 1964.[4]

A tradition each year during the holiday season is for the Planetarium's unique hyperboloid structure to be wrapped with a holiday ribbon. It began as a prank in 1970 when students tied a ribbon around the building for Christmas, but it was so popular that the tradition continued, with local businesses donating the funds and materials each year for the Planetarium to be wrapped with a bright red ribbon and a massive bow.[1]

In the 1970s, the planetarium hosted telescope tours on its roof, and in 1975 it ran Laserium shows. In the 1980s, the Planetarium had an Evans & Sutherland Digistar 1 star projector. In 1983, a tax increase was approved for the science museum, and the city sold the planetarium to the museum, then leasing it the land under the building. The Planetarium was closed in 1983 and re-opened after a $3 million renovation on July 20, 1985, as the Saint Louis Science Center.[4] In January 2000 the Planetarium closed for renovations, and it reopened on June 22, 2001, fitted with the world's fourth Zeiss Universarium Mark IX star projector, capable of projecting over 9,000 stars onto a dome 80 feet (24 m) in diameter. The planetarium also contains related exhibits on astronomy, aviation, and space travel.[3][1]

Main building

Saint Louis Science Center Entrance

In 1972, the Science Center in Clayton began to receive funds from sales tax through the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District.[5] In 1983, the St. Louis Museum of Science and Natural History purchased the Planetarium from the city, and closed it for remodeling. On July 20, 1985, the Planetarium reopened as the Saint Louis Science Center.[1] On November 2, 1991, as part of a $34 million expansion, a new building opened across from the Planetarium south of I-64, on Oakland Avenue, increasing the size of the Science Center by a factor of seven. The new building was constructed on land that had previously been the site of the Falstaff Brewing Corporation headquarters. Designed by E. Verner Johnson and Associates, the new building included an Omnimax, now called IMAX Dome theater, as well as a pedestrian bridge over the interstate highway.[1] New exhibits in the main building were devoted to Earth science, emerging technology, life sciences, physical science, and chemistry.[3][1] Within two months, the newly remodeled Saint Louis Science Center became the most visited science center in the world.[1]

From October 2011 until May 2012, the main building is hosting Star Trek: The Exhibition, a major showcase of Star Trek props, costumes and artifacts, including a full-size bridge from the USS Enterprise.[6]


On February 8, 1997, an air-supported building was added to the main building, the Exploradome. With an additional 18,000 square feet (1,700 m2), it was intended as a temporary facility for traveling exhibitions, additional classrooms, and to host large group events. Notable exhibits have included shows on the RMS Titanic ocean liner, and Body Worlds, a traveling exhibition of preserved human bodies.[2][3] It was removed in June 2013.[7]

Taylor Community Science Resource Center

The Taylor Community Science Resource Center opened in 2003. The building was donated by Jack Taylor, founder of Enterprise Rent-A-Car and houses programs such as the YES Program, a mentoring program for urban teens. The TCSRC also houses administrative offices for several departments at the science center.

Admission and exhibits

Energizer Ball Machine in lobby of main building
Dinosaur diorama on the lower level

The main building consists of four levels. The Ecology and Environment Gallery is located on the lower level along with meeting rooms, CenterStage, and the May Hall.

The first floor contains the Life Science Lab, the main entrance, ExploreStore gift shop, food court, Energizer human hamster wheel that powers the Energizer Ball Machine, and Exploradome entrance.

On the second floor there is a computer gallery called Cyberville, the Structures Gallery, the Discovery Room for young children and their parents, and the Omnimax Movie Theater.

In the bridge-tunnel connecting the main building to the Planetarium, there is a Flight! Gallery.[1]

All three floors of the Main building showcase the Energizer Ball Machine, which is three stories high.


In 2008, St. Louis and the Saint Louis Science Center won a national competition to host SciFest, an International Science Festival.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Altman, Sally; Weiss, Richard (2007). The Jewel of St. Louis: Forest Park. Marceline, Missouri: Walsworth Publishing Co. ISBN . 
  2. ^ a b c Craske, Oliver; Peacock, Sarah; Shoolbred, Andrew (2007). Forest Park, Saint Louis. Scala Publishers. ISBN . 
  3. ^ a b c d Corrigan, Patricia (2007). Bringing Science to Life: A Guide from the Saint Louis Science Center. Virginia Publishing Co. ISBN . 
  4. ^ a b c d Loughlin, Caroline; Anderson, Catherine (1986). Forest Park. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press. p. 207–209. ISBN . 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Star Trek: The Exhibition opens at Saint Louis Science Center". Saint Louis Science Center. September 22, 2011. Retrieved October 23, 2011. 
  7. ^ KSDK (12 June 2013). "Exploradome set to be removed this month". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 

External links

  • Saint Louis Science Center Homepage
  • Saint Louis Science Center rated one of the most visited American museums by Forbes Travel Magazine

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