After its official opening in 1973, the Van Straelen building, at the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS), was used as a meeting center, a conference and exhibit hall, and a training space.
To equip the exhibit hall properly, a set of information panels were developed; by February 1976, a series of photographs by Janice MacFarland preserved in the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) Archive's audiovisual collection show that these initial panels were completed.
However, it seems that the results were not entirely satisfactory. In September 1976, with the arrival of Gayle Davis at the CDRS, the process of contents development, both textual and visual, continued. For three more years.
This process involved a series of lengthy discussions, which are reflected in a number of archival documents. It also involved the application for an extensive (and tortuous) set of permissions for the authorized use of photographs ― including works by Tui de Roy, Hendrick Hoeck, Dagmar Werner, and Janice MacFarland, among others.
In late 1979, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the creation of the CDF, Vice President Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea traveled to the Galapagos Islands and was received at the Van Straelen. By then, the work on what was already known as the "interpretation building" or the "Van Straelen classroom" had been completed. The entire floor had been replaced, the access road had been improved, and all the original information panels had been replaced with new ones.
These panels were divided into areas: Geology, Biology, Climate, Conservation and Contributions. In addition to panels, archival documents indicate that a number of items from the natural science collections and the museum were on display: a handful of archaeological objects (glass bottles, ceramics...) in the Conservation section, a rock from the Alcedo volcano (Isabela island) in the Geology section, and various specimens (turtle and tortoise shells, corals, mollusks...) in the Biology section.
A letter from Gayle Davis dated shortly after the ceremony, in November 1979, states that the Van Straelen was ready for visits, although not continuously. At that time, it only opened for two hours, three times a week, and exclusively for tour groups who had made an appointment in advance. Visitors would disembark at the CDRS pier and follow the "ash trail" that led to the Van Straelen building.
The space had, for many years, a guestbook, which served as a visitors' log for the Station in general; one of the surviving copies is preserved in the CDF Archives.
Interestingly, some documents dated March 1980 show that work was still being done on the information panels: at that time there were new texts that were being translated and edited. The contents would be kept under constant revision: in fact, the last materials placed for display in the Van Straelen were produced in 2018.
[The photograph that illustrates this text belongs to Janice MacFarland, was taken in February 1976 and is kept in the CDF Archives].
Aa.Vv. [Information panels]. [Photograph + manuscript]. Santa Cruz : Aa.Vv., [ca1979]. [N.d.] : col. ill. : [n.d.]. DDC 986. Well preserved
Text & picture: Edgardo Civallero (email@example.com).
Publication date: 1 October 2023
Last update: 1 October 2023