Celebrations of all kinds took place the first weekend at the Witte Museum, as the institution revealed to the public its newly improved and enlarged spaces filled with special and permanent installations. The nearly century-old museum accommodated a two-year-long, $100 million project, involving more than 174,000 square feet of renovation and expansion.
“The Witte has long been an accredited museum with a commitment to lifelong learning in the fields of natural history, science and Texas heritage,” Witte President and CEO Marise McDermott said in a press release. “But now, because of this metamorphosis, the Witte is a top tier museum. We now say, the Witte Museum, where nature, science and culture meet.” The new main structure, the Susan Naylor Center, is filled with fossils and native plants. As visitors go forward upon their arrival, they will see the H-E-B Lantern, the Nora and Steve Burkhart Quetzy sculpture, a life-size, fleshed-out Quetzalcoatlus will greet them as giant pterosaurs fly overhead.
Visitors will enter the Valero Great Hall through the Ellen S. Quillin Arch and explore the K.K. Amini and Gayle and Walter Embrey Texas Deep Time Walls for perspective. The perspective gives visitors a glimpse of what Texas looked like during the dinosaur era, early human settlement times, and the last hundreds of years as familiar cultures and traditions emerged. Other additions include the Naylor Family Dinosaur Gallery, Kittie West Nelson Ferguson People of the Pecos Gallery, and the McLean Family Texas Wild Gallery. These and other new additions feature many interactive elements that encourage engagement from the visitors.
The new Witte also boasts six major gardens and riverside landscapes, including The Texas Wild Garden, The Science Garden, Tuleta Garden, Aqueduct Plaza and entry gardens at the Feik Family Orientation Pavilion and the Tex Elliott Family South Texas Heritage Entry Court.
Lake|Flato Architects designed the new main building. Near the front entrance of the Naylor Center, the design includes stonework that contains a representation of an aqueduct that once had functioned on the San Antonio River adjacent to the Witte. One of the main ideas behind the massive renovations and expansion was modernize the Witte, and to enable it to accommodate more large-scale, major exhibitions, museum officials have said. The design and all of the new features are meant to reflect the area’s ecology, history and cultural heritage. Museum leaders have added that, with the opening of the Mays Family Center in 2016, the Witte is able to host more events and special activities, and to welcome more tours from schools and other groups.
The Witte is next eyeing development of a Center for Rivers and Aquifers, and a Reptile Garden Cafe. But for now, construction – which has been ongoing at the Witte in one form or another for a few years — will take a break.