As many North American zoos reach their 75 or 100 year birthdays—they are left to grapple with aging buildings. Some subscribe to the philosophy “plow and start over,” while others are restoring historic architecture.
Writing the article “Does a Zoo’s Endangered Species List Include Buildings? for a national magazine, Legacy, gave me a chance to interview experts from around the country. As a zoo historian myself, charged with restoring a 1935 WPA bathhouse as the site of the zoo’s museum (coming Spring 2011), writing on this topic was both fun and heart wrenching.
I celebrated with zoos that have experienced success and visitor approval by saving nostalgic buildings. I also sympathized with zoos striving to improve both animal care and visitor “entertainment” value by replacing outdated facilities to create flashy, new, state-of-the art exhibits.
Rarely am I challenged to present both sides of a controversial story in an unbiased way. I’m not entirely sure I succeeded (I leave that up to you). However, I’m proud of my efforts, since I am strongly inclined to preserve historical architecture.
I feel that this is a unique topic that is going to gain interest as more zoos face the question, “Are zoos responsible for animals and history?”
Note: I’ve included this story in 2 formats. The first one includes beautiful architectural photographs not included in the online version.