The Aquarium would not exist without his vision and dedication.
The New England Aquarium wouldn’t exist without the vision and dedication of David B. Stone. David, who passed away April 12, 2010, at the age of 82, was the principal founder of the Aquarium. Over the course of six decades, David helped lead the effort to build what has become one of the most popular and prominent public aquariums in North America. His bold vision for a new Boston aquarium also has had a much broader influence and left a greater legacy than originally envisioned. The opening of the New England Aquarium in 1969 catalyzed the redevelopment of Boston’s waterfront and created a new model for what aquariums looked like and what they did beyond their walls.
In 1957 David, along with several other Boston business leaders, undertook the first efforts to build a new non-profit public aquarium in the economically declining Hub. In June 1959, David was elected president of the Aquarium’s board of directors, which he led until 1976. David and fellow director and publisher Henry Lyman spent much of the 1960s planning, fundraising and broadening the Aquarium’s support in Boston’s business community. Among the locations considered were the newly opened Museum of Science complex and a suburban site south of Boston. Finally, in June 1969, the New England Aquarium opened on Central Wharf, then a desolate, decrepit waterfront area of downtown Boston. It was an immediate success; 13,000 people visited on its inaugural day.
At the time, Boston’s downtown harborside was neglected and seedy, a collection of crumbling piers. The Aquarium’s opening in that location was bold and pioneering and later acted as an anchor and magnet for a massive public and private investment along Boston’s waterfront throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. It reintroduced Boston’s residents and its business community to the potential assets of a repositioned urban waterfront. Residential high-rises, luxury hotels and parking garages eventually followed.
David (second from right) on Central Wharf during
Aquarium construction. The Aquarium acted as
an anchor and a magnet for a massive public
and private investment along Boston's waterfront.
David’s vision and leadership went beyond his hard business skills. The board under his chairmanship hired staff and contractors to create an aquarium that looked dramatically different than its predecessors and provided a more engaging experience for visitors. In 1962, the nascent Aquarium made the seemingly risky move of hiring a makeshift group of designers and architects led by then 26-year-old Peter Chermayeff. Encouraged to think outside of traditional aquarium conventions, their final design was a complete reinvention of the aquarium as a public building. The New England Aquarium had open, multi-level spaces connected by bridges and ramps with large exhibits featuring naturalistic habitats and interpretive graphic panels. Its four-story Giant Ocean Tank was notable for its size but also for how it created an intimate space for visitors to really see, experience and connect with an ocean world that was largely unknown to the public then.
David’s vision of an immersive experience has been enjoyed by more than 45 million visitors over the last 40 years. His willingness to create a new model for aquariums went beyond the physical appearance and experience of the building. He envisioned that aquariums could extend beyond fascination and entertainment and could help drive the education, conservation and research of aquatic environments. The New England Aquarium became the first aquarium to have marine scientists working inside the organization and fielded one of the first marine animal rescue teams anywhere in the world. It moved its education model out of its building to work in both schools and communities.
David with the first recipient of the Aquarium's
David B. Stone award, Jacques Cousteau, in 1974.
David’s vision of having the Aquarium’s conservation, research and educational efforts reach beyond its walls has led to an impressive legacy. Aquarium staff members have guided the creation of the world’s largest marine protected area in the Phoenix Islands in the Central Pacific Ocean, have helped reduce human-caused mortalities in the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale population and are among the leading consultants on sustainable seafood practices.
David B. Stone wanted to bring the wonder of the ocean into the heart of Boston at a time when most of the American public quite literally had no idea what that underwater world looked like. His civic-mindedness and lifetime of dedication helped create a nationally prominent aquarium in Boston while his influence and leadership have created a cascade effect that has reached around the globe.