I was waiting for a bus when I noticed the wonderful glass roof of the building across the street from the bus station. Crossing over for a closer look I discovered that the delightful The Crystal Gardens are open to the public from 10 am to 5 pm daily for a fee of $2 US.
The building was designed by Francis Rattenbury, the same man who designed The Empress Hotel, the back entrance to which is on the other side of the street next to the bus station. It opened in 1925 as a saltwater swimming pool and glamourous night spot, a glass and metal version of a Roman spa. Over time the salt water caused the deterioration of the support beams. The pool was closed and for a long time the building was deamed unsafe.
Today it has been rehabilitated as a conservatory for tropical plants and animals many of which are on the endangered species list. The former deep end of the pool is now a waterfall that cascades into jungle accented by flowering orchids. There are some signs, but most of the plants are so entwined that it is difficult to see where one ends and another begins. Therefore it is impossible to tell which plant the signs refer to.
The animal population is also fascinating. There are macaws, coral flamingos, and other less recognizable birds flying freely under the four-story high glass roof. There is also a small zoo with cages where diminutive 4" monkeys delight adults and children with their playful antics.
On the upper level a corner has been walled off and double doored entry halls have been installed to create a butterfly room. Inside the there is a colorful flower garden that contrasts with the flying inhabitants of this space. Tiny bright green wings flitted across the tops of the blossems, big winged multi-colored butterflies strolled on the ceiling, a butter-yellow landed on my wrist and tickled me.
Although it is no longer a nightspot for flappers and their beaus, people rent the building for private catered events in the evenings. The day I was there tables and chairs were being set up. It was not hard to imagine that I had traveled back in time.