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The New Children's Zoo

Park Officials Lay A Bad Egg

By Carter B. Horsley

Toddlers seem to like it.

Some newcomers to New York City find it nice.

Some older New Yorkers, however, may find the new Children's Zoo in Central Park not quite inspired and not even politically correct.

And some curmudgeons, like myself, might be outraged at the ludicrous sum of money, some $6 million, that has been allegedly spent by the powers-that-be of the New York Zoological Society and Parks Department to demolish one of the city's most delightful oases, which appeared only to have needed some paint and a little loving care.

As is par for the course in New York over the past two decades or so, self-appointed nabobs of civic leadership have once again made the wrong decisions and in the process demeaned the city and its citizenry.

This time, there was a little controversy, first against the decision to destroy the small wonderland created with the generosity of the family of Gov. Lehman, and secondly, by the first benefactors of the "new" facility who were not impressed with the miniscule recognition planned for them at the site.

Amid considerable embarrassment, the various involved park officials scrambled and, luckily for them, the Tisch family came to the rescue with the required funding and are now honored by a relatively large metal sign just within the remnants of the handsome old gate.


There are some goodies at the new zoo: four kiwis, a large pig and a few cute goats and rabbits as well as a pleasant little waterfall, shown above.


Some of the other goodies - a rope "spiderweb" for tots to scramble in, shown above, some large empty turtle shell sculptures, and giant broken egg shell sculptures, hollow log sculptures and bunny sculptures without faces, all to be filled with daring little humans - could have been placed in any playground, anywhere. They are not bad, nor, with the exception of the turtle shell sculptures, especially imaginative. None of them begin to compare with the grace and elegance of bronze statues a few blocks to the north of Hans Christian Anderson and Alice in Wonderland at the sail-boat pond.

Indeed, they do not make up for Jonah's whale and Noah's ark from the old zoo, which also had some goats.

While the old zoo had a cartoony architecture that was whimsical, the new one has three gargantuan tree-trunks, each completely artificial, albeit done with impressive detail and, one should think, expense, and not quite exquisite hanging plastic strips. How the plastic, car-wash strips convey the intensity of ecological, humane and zoological correctness is not quite clear. While the creators of this facility have publicly insisted on trying to communicate the joy of animals to children and kindness to animals, what the plastic strips, shown below, do is merely mess up some people's coiffure as they struggle their way through them as is necessary to circumnavigate this small zoo and they do not seem to be an improvement on the old whale's fiberglass hulk.


There are fiberglass books whose pages don't turn here and, more importantly, fiberglass animals that emit animal sounds when touched, just in case the few real animals are not in a mood to perform.

Presumably the outlandish tree-trunk portals are there to contain the few birds that are nestled beneath a very large and very visible net that covers most of the zoo. When this was first announced, one presumed that the net would provide containment, but more space, for an exotic array of feathered and winged animals. Perhaps a condor, or some vultures, or a pheasant, or a cockatoo. Nope. Apart from the aforementioned kiwis, those great birds so admired by ancient Egyptians, there are just a few small birds that look like doves and some ducks.

The new Children's Zoo, which is just to the north of the Central Park Zoo, charges admission: $2.50 for adults and $0.50 for children. That's more rotten news. The good news, however, that if a visitor keeps his receipt he can use it to get into the larger zoo for free, which also, terribly, charges admission.

The larger zoo was rebuilt several years ago at the urging and insistence of the same zoological people who felt that the old zoo was not a proper environment for animals. It was designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo & Associates in that firm's pseudo-Byzantine style and features a spectacular and wonderful Penguin House, an impressive rain forest house, a large and also impressive polar bear habitat and a very nice large lake for monkeys and swans to cavort. It also features a redesigned seal pool, now glass-enclosed, in its center, shown below.

The redesigned zoo, however, got rid of the very large and handsome birdcages that surrounded the seal pool as well as the elephant, hippopotamus, lion, tiger, jaguar and gorilla as well as many other animals who fascinated millions of children for decades. While these animal's quarters were not ideal and it was a brilliant ploy by the zoologists to bolster attendance at the far distant, but great Bronx Zoo, these zoologists have deprived the children of New York and its visitors from confronting great animals in the flesh. I, and many others I suspect, still remember the distinctive stench of the monkey house.

The new main zoo in Central Park is cleaner and better smelling and not an eyesore. It just is too antiseptic, too virtual, too bare of live content. Animal lovers despaired for the allegedly sad blight of the caged animals in the old zoo, but I suspect that many visitors sympathized with their plight and went away from the zoo with not only memories that last their lifetimes but also a bit more reverence for our fellow creatures. The zoologists probably base their principles on the sacred romantic notion, in America, at least, that one life is the equal of millions. It isn't. That one elephant should suffer that his species thrive is not something that should be considered unthinkable.

The new children's zoo is, ultimately, a great let-down. It is not inspired. It is not sensational. It is an insult to the memory of its original benefactors. It is an indictment of civic leadership in the city. It is not worthy of New York and not indicative of the city's creative genius.


Perhaps the good zoo folk would like to get rid of the carousel because they think it insults the dignity of horses.

A November 30, 1997 article by Barbara Surk in The New York Times indicated that Whaleamena, the 13-foot-high, 19-foot-long whale "with a collapsed jaw, no tail and lots of holes banished from the Children's Zoo in Central Park surfaced at the base of the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge at Beach 95th Street, "the first sight for drivers crossing into the Rockaways," Queens.

The article noted that the whale's tail had been removed so the whale would fit onto a delivery truck and that it had been estimated that the repair of the beloved sculpture was "$125,000."

Lo and behold, the whale was fixed for $1,900 in materials and the donated efforts of Carl Migliaccio, a Parks Department employee, according to the Times article.  Bless Migliaccio!  Long live Whaleamena!

Cursed forever be the destroyers of the old Children's Zoo and their deceptive ways! (11/30/97)


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