All were excited, since the collection occupied almost a whole floor, filled with more than 100 types of dinosaur fossils. The kids, followed by their Dad, wandered through, meeting the Tyrannosaurs Rex, Titanosaur, Apatosaurus, Triceratops, Allosaurus -- and the display went on. An hour or so later, they left the museum and my son’s youngest started to cry, while the middle son’s lips quivered.
“What’s wrong?” Bruce asked. “I thought we were going to see the dinosaurs,” the three proclaimed. “We just did,” their surprised father said. “No. We didn’t! We just saw a lot of old bones. But where are the real dinosaurs?” they asked.
Bruce chuckled to himself, thinking, good question!
I use that scene as a segue between what our city fathers are planning for Palo Alto in terms of dinosaurs, and what kids may expect or want.
Palo Alto Museum and Zoo (PAMZ) is on its way to build a “Dinosaur Garden,” adjacent to its site near the Art Center. The proposed exhibit, most consisting of a display of seven dinosaur sculptures and giant fossils, would tower over visitors and kids could look at it, but not interact with it.
The completed Dinosaur Garden, would cost more than $400,000, plus additional $$$ contributions from other groups. Already three dinosaur life-like sculptures, have been ordered for $214,706, and the council is ready to pay for four more sculptures and skeleton displays.
According to a story in the Weekly, “Palo Alto also received $250,000 in matching funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services' Museums of America program and $300,000 from the nonprofit Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo for the creation of a permanent outdoor exhibit known as California Dinosaur Garden, which has a total budget of $980,000.”
I don’t fully understand these numbers or whether the gifts are going to the museum or to the Dinosaur Garden, but there sure is a lot of money involved in this project – so far.
When I was young, I can remember walking through the halls of the American Museum of Natural History, seeing one windowed exhibit after another filled with stuffed lions and tigers and bears and wolves. I complained to my mother that they didn’t move!
Kids, I suggest, would rather see live animals, not fake ones. Granted, we can’t have live dinosaurs in town (actually, anywhere) or scary big brown bears and certainly not a live live-in lion, but the real living animals in the Palo Alto zoo today are few and far between. When I visited it a couple of weeks ago, the birds were gone because they had avian flu; they are recuperating. And when I looked through the lovely landscaped gardens for live animals, I saw five, including one big aging tortoise. The live display is not enough yet to entice kids to come back (at a $10 entrance fee per visit).
Let’s be real about PAMZ. Spending $400K-plus is significant. The council in October put off a final OK on it because of cost, but added if the two city measures, K and L, on the Nov 8 ballot passed, adding more money to the city coffers, they would probably go ahead with it. K and Ly passed.
I don’t think the council should go ahead with the project, given the cool public reaction when the zoo announcement went out. The council should instead re-examine it and build something kids could really get enthused about, such as an interactive park, where if a kid steps on the dinosaur’s foot, it growls back.
We don’t need fake dinosaurs. We don’t need to spend so much money on dinosaur sculptures that please city fathers – but may not please their kids.
Plus, there are significantly more important needs in this city.
(Photo courtesy of the Palo Alto museum and Zoo.)