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Zoo map_it

History

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Animal sculptures abound in Central Park, but the largest concentration can be found in or near the Wildlife Center. In 1934, the first year of Commissioner Robert Moses’s administration, modern brick buildings replaced the dilapidated wooden Menagerie. Officially renamed the Central Park Zoo, decoration for the new buildings included elegant limestone bas reliefs and niches displaying whimsical bronze animals by Brooklyn-born sculptor Frederick George Richard Roth (1872 – 1944). Roth, noted for his animal sculptures, was subsequently named chief sculptor of Parks & Recreation. His sculpture of the Alaskan dog-sled hero Balto, at 67th Street near Fifth Avenue, commissioned in 1925, is his most famous Central Park work. Two years later he created Dancing Goat and Honey Bear, placed respectively at the southern and northern external niches of the zoo. Both function as fountains and feature miniature frogs and birds spouting water at the base of the animals. The bear and the goat dance and whimsically extend their tongues to catch insects that may be passing by.

The bas relief friezes featured on the buildings of the Wildlife Center depict the simple forms of animals drawn in stone. The delightful representation of antelopes, lions and wolves are animals that were once featured in the former Central Park Zoo. The monkey frieze over the entrance to the Zoo School, formerly the Monkey House, depicts a fanciful scene of a mother protecting her young while another monkey chases a butterfly. Over the entrance to the Zoo Gallery, formerly the Bird House, Roth sculpted an imposing eagle with outspread wings. The relationship between the artist’s bird and the eagle already in place over the entrance to the Arsenal was evident to Roth. Whereas Roth’s eagle represents the animal in his natural habitat, the one on the Arsenal—a former military structure and now headquarters of New York City Parks & Recreation—emphasizes the eagle as the iconic symbol of America.

Tigress and Cubs, by Auguste Cain, was presented to the Park in 1866. This piece has a character different from the other sculptures in the area. Where Roth strove to portray animals in a fanciful and light-hearted manner, other mid-nineteenth century sculptors like Caine preferred to depict the fierce qualities often associated with them. Auguste Cain was a student of Antoine-Louis Bayre, the most influential animalier in France, as this realistic school of sculptors was called. Here we see the tigress with tense muscles and bared fangs proudly presenting a dead peacock in her mouth to her young cubs eagerly awaiting their next meal. The sculpture, originally placed in a rural park setting, was moved to the newly renovated zoo in 1934.

Zoo Details

  • Location: Entrance to Arsenal; 5th Avenue at 64th Street
  • Architect: Gargani and Son
  • Description: Tablets (2)
  • Materials: Bronze
  • Dimensions: H: 1'1" W: 1'4 ½"
  • Dedicated: 1939
  • Donor: Purchase

Please note, the NAME field includes a primary designation as well as alternate namings often in common or popular usage. The DEDICATED field refers to the most recent dedication, most often, but not necessarily the original dedication date. If the monument did not have a formal dedication, the year listed reflects the date of installation.

For more information, please contact Art & Antiquities at (212) 360-8143

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