Celebrates 50th Anniversary
By René Sonnier, Education Coordinator
In 1969, the Lafayette Natural History Museum and Planetarium opened in a strikingly modern building on Girard Park Drive. The dark charcoal A-frame structure was tiled in golden-hued mirror-like window panels. The futuristic design by Lafayette architect Neil Nehrbass could be described as avant-garde, otherworldly, even alien, especially for a small city like Lafayette in the late 60s.
Patrons describe their first visit to the museum as walking through a portal into another world. Because much like the unusual exterior, the Lafayette Natural History Museum and Planetarium offered experiences unlike anything people had seen before. Planetariums were a relatively new technology at the time with popularity and interest fueled by the Space Race. Sitting under the planetarium dome, museum patrons were immersed in scenes of stars, planets and other celestial objects as they appeared to move realistically across the simulated night sky.
In the museum’s galleries, science and natural history exhibits exposed visitors to compelling content and real-life artifacts. For many patrons, things they had only seen before on the flat pages of a textbook were brought to life in three dimensions to be studied and examined up close. In 2009, the museum was rebranded as the Lafayette Science Museum.
This year, LSM celebrates its 50th anniversary. The museum has evolved and changed, moved and grown into a thriving regional science center, which strives to promote interest and inspire careers through science, technology, engineering and math. By applying the latest technologies to interactive experiences and immersive education, LSM is still guided by the early mission of its founders to bring exciting, never-before-seen science enrichment and education to the Lafayette community.
Started by the women’s organization Les Deux Douzaines, which means The Two Dozen, the museum began as a community project designed to provide science enrichment to area schools. It was originally a volunteer program that visited junior high and elementary schools to provide field trips and events focused on science education. Seeing the need to expand their offerings, Les Deux Douzaines made plans to construct the museum on a parcel of land donated by the Heymann family.
After decades operating at its original location, the museum relocated to the former Heymann’s Department Store in 2002. The new location, a three story building in the heart of downtown Lafayette, further expanded the offerings the museum was able to provide. Today, LSM features 10,000 square feet of gallery space, a large collections vault, reference library, archives, meeting space, classrooms and a state-of-the-art, all-digital planetarium.
A new exhibit opening this year will feature a virtual tour of the original museum. Visitors will be able to step back in time to see the Nehrbass building and its surroundings, the entrance, gallery and original planetarium. Video interviews with founding members of Les Deux Douzaines and others involved in opening and operating the museum in its early days will be a centerpiece. The exhibit also will include a retrospective of the museum’s 50 years of exhibits and collections.
At the exhibit opening, LSM will unveil a commemorative work of art by Lafayette’s own Cayla Mattea Zeek. Signed and numbered prints also will be available for purchase at the museum and at LSM’s Bach Lunch Concert Series during the spring and fall seasons.Additional events are planned throughout the year to celebrate LSM’s legacy and the future of science programming in Lafayette.