Volunteers and Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department employees were working side-by-side to get the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory ready ahead of its opening Nov. 20, 1983.
About 3,000 chrysanthemums were planted around a split-rail fence and old wagon in the showcase garden, the first of three glass-covered “houses.” The general layout of the gardens was much the same as you see them now: the showcase space for rotating exhibits, the tropical garden complete with waterfall, and an arid desert area. A landscaped park surrounded the structure.
The building was built on land donated by the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission. The $4.5 million construction project was funded by donations from the Foellinger Foundation and the Frank Freimann Charitable Trust. Lincoln National Corp. established an endowment for maintenance.
These stories appeared in The Journal Gazette:
"Ground broken on downtown gardens" (Oct. 10, 1981)
The public and private sectors joined hands Friday to break ground for the $8.7 million botanical conservatory downtown.
Mayor Win Moses Jr. and representatives of private charities pointed to cooperation as the cornerstone in construction of the downtown gardens, scheduled for completion in 18 months.
Two charities – the Foellinger Foundation and the Freimann Charitable Trust – donated $2 million each for construction of the conservatory. That money has drawn interest since the donation and will pay the $4.7 million construction price tag.
The Lincoln National Corp. donated $750,000 to establish a trust fund to pay for maintenance and operation costs once the project is completed.
The city purchased the land for the gardens bounded by Calhoun and Harrison streets, Jefferson Boulevard and Douglas Street – and demolished the buildings which were there.
The city paid for the land with $3 million in redevelopment commission bonds and $1 million in federal revenue sharing and Community Development and Planning money.
"Working alone, none of us would have been able to accomplish this task," Moses said at the groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning.
The three conservatory buildings will contain a simulated rain forest, an arid climate and a showcase with changing displays.
The conservatory will be surrounded by a landscaped park, according to Carl Bradley of Archonics, the architectural firm which designed the gardens.
"Ready to blossom," by Sherman Goldenberg (Nov. 18, 1983)
Harried last-minute preparations have been underway this week for the opening at 1 p.m. Sunday of the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, 1100 S. Calhoun St.
The ceremonies at the $4.5 million facility culminate a two-year construction project that is part of Fort Wayne's downtown facelift.
Laying sod and planting flowers, conservatory workers employed by the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department were working side-by-side with conservatory volunteers to put on the finishing touches for the dedication.
"Oh sure, it's hectic," Conservatory Manager Larry M. Walter said earlier this week. "But I can't imagine a project this size that doesn't get a bit hectic the last week.
"We're still waiting for plant matter. It'll keep coming in even after the opening. These are just the beginnings of the plant collection. And we'll just keep adding to it. This is just the backbone."
The modernistic conservatory, with about an acre under glass, has been built on land donated by the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission, estimated to be worth another $4 million. The 3/4-block site once housed, among other familiar storefronts, a gift shop, a motel, a beauty college and a candy store. It was designed by Archonics of Fort Wayne and funded by the Foellinger Foundation, Inc. and the Frank Freimann Charitable Trust, Inc. In addition, Lincoln National Corp. established an endowment of $750,000 for perpetual maintenance.
A visitor entering the main entrance of the tree connecting exhibit buildings from the courtyard at Calhoun and Jefferson streets is met in the sky-lit lobby by a 60-foot-long corridor. To the right is a gift shop. To the left is a "multi-image" slide show on a backlit screen describing the conservatory.
Down the brick-paved corridor, past the ticket and information desk, is the first exhibition building, the 10,000-square-foot "Showcase" to house changing plant displays. For the opening, about 3,000 chrysanthemums have been planted around a split-rail fence and an old wagon. Among the permanent plantings under the 45-foot ceiling are Hawthorne, Spruce and Loquat trees.
Across the glass ceilings are expanses of thermal curtains, a component of the conservatory's solar heat-convection system. The tempered-glass-and-concrete buildings nestled into earthen berms collect the sun's heat each day. The thermal curtains are drawn across the glass at night to conserve heat and, at times, during the day to provide shade.
The air heated by the sunlight is pulled by fans into underground rock storage chambers (which park department personnel proudly describe as the nation's largest rock heat-exchangers) and, when necessary, is drawn from the rock reservoirs and redistributed throughout the 45,000-square-foot structure.
The stone storage chambers are cleverly hidden beneath elevated concrete planters.
The solar setup complements a conventional gas-fired hot water furnace in the basement.
After traversing another tunnel-like corridor, the visitor, amid the rushing sounds of an overhead waterfall, enters the multi-level, 10,000-square-foot "Tropical House." More than 200 exotic plants, including palms and banana trees, are exhibited in a jungle setting under a 50-foot roof. Draped with vines, the waterfall – constructed of structural steel and sprayed concrete – drops water into a narrow creek descending to a pool. The water circulates through a 550-gallon tank buried under the rock overhang.
The third building, again reached through a corridor, is the "Arid House." The 4,500-square-foot greenhouse displays unusual North American desert plants in a sprawling rock garden comprised of 52 tons of boulders. Plants include rangy Ocotillo Coach Whip shrubs, Horse Cripple barrel cactus looking like 50-pound pineapples and prickly saguaro cactus.
The conservatory will be open until 8 p.m. Sunday. Regular hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $1.50 for adults, 75 cents for children 12 and under.