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Zoo Center at the Bronx Zoo Marks 110th Year

November 20, 2018

Zoo Center at the Bronx Zoo Marks 110th Year

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Sana Masood Sana Masood

On November 20, 1908, the Elephant House opened to the public at the Bronx Zoo. At the time, the Elephant House was regarded as one of the finest and most modern zoological buildings. Some of the early species to reside there were rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, tapirs, and of course, elephants.

The architecture firm Heins and LaFarge designed the building, and it was modeled after the Hippo Palace at the Antwerp Zoo. The interior tilework was done by Rafael Guasavino, the famed architect and tile manufacturer who also used his signature overlapping tile method for the ceilings at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Originally, the dome of the Elephant House was tiled in an elaborate pattern of browns and greens. In 1957, the roof the building was replaced with metal, updating the dome to the copper it has today.

Among the Elephant House’s notable features are the sculptures that decorate the building. Two sculptors were chosen by the New York Zoological Society through a competition. Alexander Phimister Proctor created the Asian elephant on the south side of the building and Charles R. Knight made the African elephant on the north side. A band of sculptures featuring the heads of the different species that originally were found at the Elephant House also decorates the building.

In 1985, the Elephant House closed for renovation and reopened in 1989 as the Keith W. Johnson Zoo Center, as it is known today. Two identical sculptures of an Indian rhinoceros by Katherine Lane Weems were installed outside of Zoo Center following the renovation as well. These sculptures are copies of originals that are located at Harvard University, and they depict Bessie, a rhino who lived at the Bronx Zoo from 1923 until her death in 1962.

As times have changed, most of the species that were originally in the Elephant House moved to new exhibits at the zoo, and now Komodo dragons and Aldabra tortoises are the residents of Zoo Center.


Bronx, US Map It

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