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'Crown Jewel of Manhattan Beach' Re-Opens in Emotional Ceremony

Nov 05, 2018 09:04PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The "crown jewel of Manhattan Beach" reopened on Monday afternoon to a crowd of family, friends, and supporters of the Roundhouse Aquarium, following a yearlong renovation project.

"This is only a 2,200 square foot aquarium, but it is one of the most unique and special aquariums in the country," said Michael Greenberg, president of SKECHERS and head of the Harrison Greenberg Foundation, which spearheaded the renovation project. "I am absolutely blown away by the results."

Tribute to Harrison Greenberg

Following the untimely passing of Harrison Greenberg at age 19 in 2015, the Greenberg family created the Harrison Greenberg Foundation to raise funds for the Roundhouse Aquarium Beautification Project. Since its inception, the foundation has raised more than $4 million to fund the building's restoration, structural, and technological upgrades - with the goal of transforming the historic landmark into a revitalized icon for the city of Manhattan Beach.

Michael and Wendy Greenberg, Harrison Greenberg's parents, both spoke emotionally at the ceremony about how the redesigned aquarium would be a fitting tribute to Harrison's love of the ocean, thirst for knowledge, and spirit of adventure. "He is forever in our hearts," said Michael Greenberg.

Manhattan Beach Mayor Steve Napolitano called the Roundhouse "the greatest little aquarium in the world." 

The city had always planned to undertake a renovation, said Napolitano, but those plans did not fully take shape until the Harrison Greenberg Foundation stepped up and led the way. Harrison's spirit will live on through the "enchantment and awe" of the thousands of children who will visit each year, Napolitano said.

Redesigned Interior

As designed by the architectural firm CambridgeSeven, the interior of the Roundhouse has been completely re-envisioned with open east-to-west views, floor-to-ceiling tanks, and transformative audiovisual effects, immersing visitors in the oceanic experience. New tide pools, interactive play tanks, and hands-on interactive exhibits have been customized to enhance the Roundhouse's educational projects.

In its new incarnation, the Roundhouse includes more than 14 oceanic tanks, two fresh water tanks, a wrap-around touch tank, and 75 species of marine life. Notable species include jellyfish, a shark, octopus, sheepshead, seahorses, and moray eels; as well as a touch tank with sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and sea snails.

Designer Peter Sollogub, associate principal of CambridgeSeven, said that although other major aquariums the firms had designed encompassed thousands of square feet and probably millions of gallons of water, he considered the Roundhouse Aquarium the "biggest" project to date. "Those other things are measured by metrics, but you can't measure what's in the heart," he said. "This aquarium has the biggest heart."

History and Significance

The Roundhouse has a central and longstanding place in Manhattan Beach history. The original Manhattan Beach Pier was an iron jetty built in the early 1900s, but it was destroyed in a violent storm in the winter of 1913. The current pier was built in 1920, and the pavilion at the end of the pier opened in 1922, featuring a bait and tackle shop and a cafe. 

In 1979, the structure was transformed into an oceanographic research center under the management of Oceanographic Testing Stations, Inc. (O.T.S.), a nonprofit with a mission of spreading environmental and oceanographic awareness in the Los Angeles area. The Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium opened in 1981, free of charge to the public, to promote the study of oceans and beaches of Southern California. A major remodel was completed in 1992.

Currently the Roundhouse is open to the public seven days a week and is free of charge. Approximately 300,000 visitors from around the world come to the Roundhouse every year, including 17,000 students from schools throughout Los Angeles and Orange County.

The Roundhouse offers a unique opportunity for learning about the ocean in a way that many students have never previously experienced. In a recent survey of students visiting the Roundhouse, 30 percent of student visitors had never touched a live sea animal before; and 17 percent of students had never been to the beach before their field trip.

Though corporate gifts and donations have supplied food and care for marine life, repaired tanks, and maintained its facilities, the aquarium itself had fallen into a state of disrepair. The Harrison Greenberg Foundation Roundhouse Beautification Project has been the first major fundraising initiative in the structure's nearly 100-year history.

Michael Greenberg said that he was setting up an endowment fund to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of the aquarium and to ensure that it remains free of charge to visitors.

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