“Lincoln Park Zoo’s beloved big cats have finally returned. The zoo opened its Pepper Family Wildlife Center on Thursday after two years of work. The center houses a pride of lions, as well as two red pandas, two Canada lynx and two snow leopards.
“The zoo’s lion house closed in 2019 for a major overhaul. Their habitat has now doubled in size and is home to four lions: 3-year-old Jabari, a male; and sisters Zari, Cleo and Hasira. They explored their space for the first time Thursday as visitors looked on. The lion habitat has new rock formations, climbing trees, deadfall made from trees and cooling and heating elements.
“Mike Murray, the zoo’s curator of mammals, said ‘excited is an understatement’ when it comes to seeing people enjoy the new habitat after years of renovations. ‘It took us many years and a lot of hard work, and we are just honored to show this building and this state-of-the-art lion habitat to everybody,’ Murray said. ‘It’s almost indescribable.’
“Renovations were also done to the lion house, which was given city landmark status in 2005. The building was constructed in 1912. Major changes couldn’t be made to its structure due to its landmark status, but updates were made to the façade and several parts of the interior. The lion house now features the Lion Loop, which allows visitors to see the outdoor lion habitat from the center of the exhibit.
“The Pepper Family Wildlife Center is named after Roxelyn and the late Richard Pepper, whose $15 million gift allowed the zoo to break ground in December 2019. The $41 million renovation of the lion house was the final phase of The Pride of Chicago, a $135 million campaign that began in 2012. McDonald, (Block Club Chicago, 10/14/21)
The Lincoln Park Lion House was designed in 1912 by architect Dwight Perkins, with his partners William Fellows and John Hamilton. With its decorative brickwork and terra-cotta ornament, lion mosaics and grand hall with a vaulted Guastavino-tile ceiling, it was designated as a Chicago Landmark in 2005.
Preservation Chicago worked in cooperation with the development team from the Lincoln Park Zoo and architect Goettsch Partners, to help to optimize the Kovler/Pepper Lion House improvements. Plan review and site visits resulted in dozens of observations, comments and suggestions.
The objective was to both accommodate the desired programmatic functionality including ADA accessibility and to be sensitive to the historic building design and elements. A good process yields a good outcome. Much of the design work to rethink this space is innovative, and the design team should be recognized for their success.
Preservation Chicago strongly supported the restoration of historic features on the principal facades of Lion House, its interior Landmarked features and other alterations. These changes have made significant improvements to the well-being of the animals and improved public access to the historic building. Preservation Chicago submitted a letter of support to the Commission of Chicago Landmarks and testified in support of the project who recognized our contributions.
Based on the wonderful success of this project, Preservation Chicago further encourages the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Department of Planning and Development, Historic Preservation Division, to consider a thematic Landmark District to incorporate the historic buildings forming the historic core of Lincoln Park Zoo. These buildings could include the Primate House (1927), the former Reptile House (now the Park Place Café cafeteria building), The Bird House (1904), the former Academy of Sciences Matthew Laflin Memorial Building (now the Lincoln Park Zoo Administration Building, 1893) and the rounded “Landmark Cafe” Building (1899).
A Landmark designation of these structures would be much in the spirit of Cafe Breuer (1908) and The Lion House (1912), both by Dwight Perkins, and would further ensure good preservation practices going forward. The Lincoln Park Zoo should also encourage a celebration of its landscape and the landscape design work of Swain Nelson and Olaf Benson to which the grand promenade or east-west access may be part of the original overall design.
Lions Have Finally Returned To Lincoln Park Zoo After Nearly 2 Years: ‘A Place To Learn And Love And Grow’: People can see the zoo’s four lions — as well as red pandas, snow leopards and other creatures — at its newly reopened habitat, Maia McDonald, Block Club Chicago, 10/14/21