WIN: Lincoln Park Zoo Kovler/Pepper Lion House Renovation Beautifully Blends Historic Building and Creative Innovation

Lincoln Park Zoo Kovler Lion House / Pepper Wildlife Center, 1912, Dwight Perkins, with his partners William Fellows and John Hamilton. Designated a Chicago Landmark in 2005. Photo Credit: Tom Harris
Lincoln Park Zoo Kovler Lion House / Pepper Wildlife Center, 1912, Dwight Perkins, with his partners William Fellows and John Hamilton. Designated a Chicago Landmark in 2005. Photo Credit: Tom Harris

“Goettsch Partners has announced the completion of the Pepper Family Wildlife Center, a $41 million renovation, restoration, and expansion of the historic lion house at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo.

“The new 54,000-square-foot facility nearly doubles the size of the previous lion habitat, providing increased transparency and a more immersive experience for visitors. Designed in collaboration with Seattle-based zoo exhibit specialists PJA, the habitat focuses on providing choices for the animals and enhancing wellbeing, from thermal comfort zones for heating and cooling to intricate rockwork and trees for climbing.

“The original lion house was designed by architect Dwight Perkins and completed in 1912. In 2005, it was designated a Chicago Landmark, celebrated for its decorative brickwork and terra-cotta ornament, lion mosaics, and grand hall with its vaulted Guastavino tile ceiling. The design team worked closely with the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to preserve, restore, and enhance the architecturally significant features of the original Arts and Crafts building, including the masonry, clay tile roof, copper gutter, windows, and doors.

“The renovation and restoration work revitalizes one of Chicago’s historic architectural gems,” said technical principal at Goettsch Partners, Patrick Loughran. “New features and functionality allow the facility to better serve the needs of the zoo and visitors well into the future.” (Bahadursingh, Archinect, 11/19/21)

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.

Read the full story with many photos at Archinect

Historic lion house at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo shines in new light, Nathaniel Bahadursingh, Archinect, 11/19/21 (Block Club Chicago, 10/14/21)

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

Landmark Lincoln Park Zoo lion house is getting a $35M makeover; Before work can begin, the zoo will say goodbye to its current pride of lions, Jay Koziarz, Curbed Chicago, 5/10/19 

New $35 million Lincoln Park Zoo lion house to include food zipline but not the current lions, Steve Johnson, Chicago Tribune, 5/9/19 

Lincoln Park Zoo Lion House Chicago Landmark Designation Report


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