Building Improvement Project

The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History has served Santa Cruz since 1905, connecting people with nature and science to inspire stewardship of the natural world. Since 1954, the Museum has resided in its current building in Tyrrell Park, which serves as an exhibit hall, classroom, retail space, event venue, office, workshop, and collections storage.

The Museum’s Building Improvement Project is identifying site enhancements to preserve the City’s historic building, protect the Museum’s unique collections, increase safety and accessibility, and better serve the community.

Issues we hope to address:

  • The historic building and its systems are in urgent need of safety, preservation and sustainability upgrades.
  • The Museum’s valuable collections are threatened by substandard space and environmental controls.
  • Insufficient space and air flow pose challenges for a healthy, safe, and inclusive environment for staff, volunteers, and guests.
  • A lack of a dedicated classroom space impacts both the educational programs and visitors’ experience, especially with concurrent functions.
  • Building and park accessibility needs significant improvement. 
  • Existing exhibit space limits the Museum’s ability to connect people with nature and science through its extensive and unique local collections (only 4% of collection is currently displayed).

Potential Solutions & Opportunities:

  • Timely action will preserve the historic 1915 building – one of only two remaining Carnegie libraries in Santa Cruz – and preserve historic collections for generations to come. 
  • Improved infrastructure (i.e. HVAC, restrooms, elevator, foundation) and accessibility will create a healthy and welcoming environment for visitors, staff and volunteers. 
  • A purpose-built classroom will enhance the experience for educational programs and museum visitors and can be used as a community space for events, meetings, and gatherings. 
  • Additional exhibit space allows the Museum to better educate and welcome locals and tourists alike to our unique natural environment.


Why is the Museum launching this project now?

The Museum has been located in the historic Carnegie building at Tyrrell Park since 1954. The building was expanded twice in the 1960s.  Since then, however, several studies have shown that the Museum urgently needs infrastructure and space upgrades to function effectively.

Since it achieved independent, non-profit status in 2008, the Museum has worked tirelessly to elevate and modernize its stewardship of historic collections, exhibits, school programs, and public programs and events. With this evolution, we have experienced daily the limitations and challenges of the current facility. 

At the same time, the Museum has participated in a Museum Assessment Program (MAP) and Collections Assessment Program (CAP), part of our continued dedication to achieving excellence in the field. Over the past two years of assessments, independent museum professionals have reaffirmed the need for improvements to the building, including for greater accessibility.

Recent storms – and related flooding- have also shown us that we can’t wait. Now is the ideal time to strengthen and preserve the Museum building, protect and enhance invaluable Museum collections, and provide greater accessibility to the community we serve.

How can I have input?

Neighbors, museum supporters, and community members will have several opportunities to provide input both directly to the Museum and to the City through the permitting process. Sign up below to receive project updates, and return to this page for key dates.

How much are you going to change about the museum?

Our proposed approach includes a modest expansion modest expansion to the non-historic rear section of the building (toward the amphitheater), and an additional classroom space on the Pilkington Ave. side of the building. This would leave the historic front of the building unchanged.

How will this impact the park?

The proposed changes will extend into areas of the park that are currently used primarily by the Museum itself. At the back of the building the park space that will be impacted includes garden beds and slopes that are currently too steep to be traversed. The classroom addition will extend onto the lawn adjacent to the Museum, which is mostly used by the Museum for events. 

Improvements to the park may also be part of this project, including enhanced accessibility, additional learning areas, and more public amenities in support of the Parks Master Plan.

What about parking and traffic?

As part of the planning process we will undertake a careful study of potential parking and traffic impacts.

The proposed changes focus on enhancing the visitor and student experience, but are not intended to significantly increase the overall capacity of the Museum. We already host classes daily, and events with more than 200 attendees almost monthly. Upgrades to the facility would not drastically change the scale or frequency of these functions.

Who is going to pay for this project?

This project will be funded through a capital campaign contributed to by donors. The Museum will remain a publicly-owned building. There will be no impact on state or local taxpayers.

Upcoming meetings and project milestones:

Updates, including timeline, will be provided as the project progresses.

  • May 14 – City Council approval of the project partnership with Parks and Recreation
  • May 19 – Neighborhood Community Meeting
  • May 22 – Member Community Meeting

Questions? Comments? Email: project@santacruzmuseum.org