One of the reasons I deliberately avoided mentioning the Central Park Zoo, both in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, and thus far in my blog, is that it wasn’t a part of Olmsted and Vaux’s original design. Like the sculptures in the Mall and the baseball fields scattered throughout the rest of the park, the zoo simply happened.
It all began when some people ‘donated’ some swans and a bear to the city, and the poor creatures ended up being housed in the Arsenal Building inside the park on 64th and Fifth.
Animals must attract other animals, because the menagerie expanded until the ‘zoo’ itself was eventually expanded in 1934 with a series of new buildings centered around a naturalistic sea lion pool.
Which brings me to the second reason that I didn’t mention the Central Park Zoo till now. The ‘1934 Zoo’, as it is called, was inhumanely cramped and, by the time I visited it in the 1960s, fallen into horrible disrepair.
I felt so sorry for the animals that, after visiting it once, I never wanted to go back.
The zoo was later renovated and reopened in 1988 with more accommodating and naturalistic environments.
Trellised, vine-clad, glass-roofed pergolas link the three major exhibit areas—tropic, temperate and polar— housed in discreet new buildings of brick trimmed with granite, masked by vines. The zoo is home to an indoor rain forest, leaf-cutter ant colony, a chilled penguin house and currently unoccupied polar bear pool.
In a city where everyone lives in ‘cages’, so to speak, I suppose I shouldn’t feel too sorry for these animals who are fed and housed in relative comfort for ‘free’, but I do, knowing that they would probably feel more at home and, hence, happier competing for space in the wild!