Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden is an attraction in the Oakland community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is located inside the city's Schenley Park, one of the largest green spaces in Pittsburgh.
Phipps Conservatory was established in 1893, a result of Pittsburgh's City Beautiful movement of that era. It was originally stocked with tropical plants that were brought to the city from the World Exposition that took place in Chicago during that same year. Henry Phipps built it as a gift to the city and intended it to be both a place of enjoyment and a place of instruction where city residents could learn about the beauty and diversity of the outdoors. The Victorian-style conservatory was built by the New York firm of Lord and Burnham and it cost Phipps about $100,000.
Phipps Conservatory was an instant hit. The Palm Court, one of the origin parts of the conservatory, remained the focal point of the structure. Similar to other conservatories around the country, the Palm Court was 65 feet tall at its highest point and housed a huge variety of tropical Palm trees. People arrived from far and wide to visit the attraction, the first of its kind in this area.
The original conservatory contained nine rooms, but additions came quickly. The South Conservatory was added just a few years after the opening of Phipps Conservatory, and in 1902, Henry Phipps added a Cacti House, which introduced residents of Pittsburgh to the plants of the dry climates of the western United States. Visitors could peer into the room and take pictures, though they could not originally wander among the cacti. That was later changed and that same addition now carries the name "Desert Room'' as the plant life inside is now more diverse. Rare orchids came soon afterward and special flower shows were held for Easter and other times of the year.
The conservatory contained to grow for many years, with additions of fountains, new gardens such as a Japanese garden, and much more. Phipps was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Huge renovations were made a few years later, closing the attraction for more than 18 months. The one-acre Outdoor Garden was added in 1986 and the Japanese Courtyard Garden in 1991. A private organization gained management of the Phipps Conservatory in the late 1990s and since then, many additional improvements have been made including a new visitor center and an emphasis on green living became part of the plans for the 21st century, with groundbreaking for a new "Center for Sustainable Landscapes'' happening in 2008.
Visitors to Phipps Conservatory can enjoy five different kinds of tours these days. They include the self-guided kind as well as a docent-led tour, a tropical forest or greenhouse tour, or a "green'' tour for the environmentally conscious. A number of special exhibits and events happen all year long including annual festivals and fundraisers for Phipps.
Classes for both adults and children are well attended. They cover a variety of gardening- or horticulture-related topics such as landscape and garden design, botanical art and illustration, and botanical crafts for adults, and forest hikes, papermaking, and much more for the kids. Summer camps are offered as well.