Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf
The spirit and energy of San Francisco is manifested in the history of one
of its most popular landmarks - The Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf.
Bedecked by colorful waving flags and surrounded by a complex of gifts
shops and entertainment sites, the museum welcomes guests to one of the
world's most visited spots. Three generations of the Fong family have kept
the Wax Museum a vital and changing San Francisco attraction.
Thomas Fong opened the Wax Museum in 1963, from a renovated chicken feed
warehouse which was across the street from a handful of shops and
restaurants which then comprised Fisherman's Wharf. With remarkable
vision, Thomas Fong saw the potential of his site to lure San Franciscans
and visitors alike to the Fisherman's Wharf area and to see it as a place
to spend the day, rather than just passing through for lunch. Inspired by
the wax figures at the Seattle World's Fair, he decided to open a Wax
The museum started with 150 life-sized figures in front of black curtains
on the first floor and opened as the largest wax museum in North America.
Now the exhibits span four floors with over 200 figures in elaborately
staged scenes, with costumes, props and lighting, carefully constructed to
authenticate people at the peak of their fame. Many scenes were designed
and sculpted by Thomas Fong's son Ronald, who co-directed the family
business in partnership with his father from its inception.
In the late 1960's, Ron and his father created a second floor for the Hall
of Religions, which depicts six of the world's greatest faiths. The most
popular exhibit continues to be a recreation of Leonardo da Vinci's
painting of the Last Supper. The museum added a subterranean Chamber of
Horrors and in the late '70's, the Gallery of Stars. The museum debuted a
replication of King Tutankamen's tomb soon after, which occupies the top
floor of the museum and opened when the National Touring exhibit from Cairo
arrived in San Francisco.
Over the years, a collection of gift shops and new attractions adjoining the museum were added. This group of Fong operations was known as the Wax Museum Entertainment Complex and at one time included four attractions, four gifts shops and an arcade, as well as a Galleria of rental shops, which were leased to independent specialty retailers.
In addition to providing entertainment for San Francisco and its visitors,
the Wax Museum supports many of the city's non-profit organizations. Their
belief in the importance of giving back to the community inspired the Fong
family to establish the Thomas and Eva Fong Foundation, which primarily
supports local charities and causes that do not receive national
assistance. One favorite charity is On Lok, an organization dedicated to
helping Chinese American senior citizens.
Rodney Fong, representing the third generation of the Fong family, now runs
most of the day to day operations of the family business. Like his father
and grandfather, Rodney has the energy and vision to keep the museum a
favorite of San Franciscans and visitors.
In September 1998, the historic 100 year old San Francisco landmark that was The Wax Museum Entertainment Complex for 35 years, was torn down to make way for a $15 million, 100,000 square foot showplace.
As one of the world's largest wax museums, the fully restored San Francisco attraction continues to show all aspects of life from the ignoble Chamber of Horrors to the inspiring Hall of Religion, including the historic Library of U.S. Presidents, the spectacular Recreation of King Tut's Tomb and the unique Palace of Living Art, where the world's most famous masters, and their masterpieces come to life through the magic of wax artistry.
Among both foreign and domestic visitors, the most popular part of the wax museum tour is The Gallery of Stars. Artisans are busy continually producing a galaxy of brand new stars, such as Leonardo Di Capiro and Will Smith, who will join such classics as Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne.