Hall of Health Museum Closes After 35 Years

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday July 16, 2009 - 10:55:00 AM

A downtown Berkeley based health museum that once drew 24,000 visitors a year is closing its doors this week because of falling attendance and a loss of grant funding. 

Hall of Health , a hands-on health museum will close its doors Saturday, July 18 after 35 years. 

The museum, located at Shattuck and Kittredge, is operated under the aegis of Children’s Hospital and Research Center of Oakland. 

“It’s really sad to lose this,” the outgoing museum director, Dr. Lucy Day said. 

Specifically designed to instruct youth in the subjects of the human body, nutrition, puberty, safety, drugs and addiction, genetics, and body image, the museum provided various hands-on exhibits, including electronic quizzes, medical equipment, health-related computer programs, and body and organ models. Two-thirds of the museum’s attendance consisted of tours sponsored primarily by school groups. 

At its height, the museum had three employees and a large contingent of UC Berkeley work-study students. In recent weeks, due to declining attendance, the museum has been staffed by just Day and two work-study students. Day, a 17-year veteran of Children’s Hospital, said the closure of the museum will end her employment with the hospital, but she’d be glad to return if funds can be found to reopen the museum. 

According to Day, drastic changes in the area’s primary education establishment, as well as other educational and economic changes, led to the attendance decline, which had plummeted to 5,500 visitors a year. Day said that tours from Oakland public schools dropped following the state takeover of Oakland Unified in 2003, and the district’s transfer of the sixth grade classes from elementary to middle school led to a complete end to tours from sixth graders. In addition, Day said that the constrictions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act caused many local teachers to concentrate more on activities designed to boost test scores, leaving out auxiliary learning such as that provided by the Hall of Health. 

Rental costs played a factor as well. 

The museum was operating on a $335,000 annual budget, 10 percent supplied directly by Children’s Hospital, the rest provided by grants from the National Institute of Health and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Day said that the $7,000 per month lease for the Berkeley center property where the museum is located was a good deal for downtown Berkeley and she had no quarrel with the property owners. But she added that nonprofit museums are typically housed rent-free, and the Hall of Health’s funders balked at paying what they considered a steep rent. Outside funding for the museum ends this month. 

Day said that she relied on a real estate broker to try to find alternative housing for the museum, but admitted that she might have made a mistake in not trying harder to search for new spaces herself. 

Children’s Hospital officials say they have not given up hope to reopen the museum and are pursuing money and an alternative location. They said that anyone with suggestions can contact Diana Yee in the Children’s Hospital Media Relations Department at 428-3367.  

In the meantime, Day said that exhibits from the museum are being loaned out to local schools and other education institutions to aid in student health instruction. 


EDITOR'S NOTE: This story corrects a mistake in the print edition. The Hall of Health's lease is $7,000 per month, not per year.