Celebrating 100 years at Franklin Park Zoo
Franklin Park Zoo is a 72-acre site nestled in Boston’s historic Franklin Park, and has long been considered the “crown jewel” of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace Park System. Construction of the Zoo began in 1911, and it officially opened in 1912 when the bear dens (which are no longer in use) were ready for public viewing. In 1913 William Austen’s birdhouse inspired by Asian historical architecture opened, along with the free-flight bird exhibit. That same year a waterfowl pond was added, along with 50 English elms, creating what is now called “The Greeting.” Eight granite Doric columns from the Custom House Tower (now the Marriott’s Custom House Hotel in downtown Boston) were later added to create the entrance in 1916. Two marble statues carved by Daniel Chester French, representing commerce and industry, were placed in the Zoo in 1928. Visitors can still see these today at the Giraffe entrance.
Additions continued into the 1930s, with the Zoo drawing enthusiastic crowds. However, the Great Depression followed by World War II brought hard times to the Zoo and surrounding park. Franklin Park Zoo was managed by the City of Boston, but in 1958, the Metropolitan District Commission, a state agency, assumed management. Following this, Franklin Park Zoo received its first professionally trained zoologist to serve as Zoo Director, Walter D. Stone, and the addition of an animal hospital, administrative buildings, and the Children’s Zoo.
The Metropolitan District Commission continued to improve and manage the Zoo until 1991, when Gov. William Weld signed legislation to create the private Commonwealth Zoological Corporation (d.b.a. Zoo New England). Since 1997, exciting additions have included African wild dogs, Amur leopards, Baird’s tapirs, the Giraffe Savannah (home to Masai giraffes and Grevy’s zebras), Kalahari Kingdom (home to an African lion), Serengeti Crossing (featuring white-bearded wildebeests, Grant’s zebras and ostrich), Outback Trail (featuring kangaroos, emus and sheep), Butterfly Landing, and many more smaller exhibits.
More recently, in 2006 the Tiger Tails exhibit opened, marking the first time tigers had been exhibited at Franklin Park Zoo in more than 30 years. In February of 2007, the gorilla exhibit inside the Tropical Forest reopened after a dramatic renovation that increased the horizontal space by 50 percent and the vertical space by 25 percent.
Hollywood came to Franklin Park Zoo in 2009 when the site was chosen as the setting for the major motion picture Zookeeper, starring Kevin James and the voices of Cher and Adam Sandler. In July 2011, Zookeeper opened, bringing the Franklin Park Zoo to theaters nationwide.
In 2010, Aussie Aviary, a free-flight interactive exhibit home to hundreds of brightly-colored budgies, opened.
Throughout 2011, visitors to Franklin Park Zoo saw many new faces with the births of ring-tailed lemur twins, a bongo antelope and a wildebeest calf. In April 2011, a new giant anteater exhibit opened inside the Tropical Forest. This space features a first-of-its-kind, built-in anteater feeding demonstrator.
As we celebrate our Centennial in 2012, we are excited to roar into the next 100 years!
The above photo (undated) depicts the bear dens which opened in 1912. The bear dens are no longer in use. Photo courtesy of Historic New England.
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We would love to hear about your memories of the Franklin Park Zoo! Please e-mail your stories and photos to: ZooMemories@zoonewengland.com.
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