4. Before the Central Park Zoo, Animals Were Kept in the Basement of the Arsenal

In 1859, what is now the Central Park Zoo began to form on the grounds around the Arsenal, a brick, Medieval fortress-like building located at 64th Street and Fifth Avenue. Some of the animals were housed in makeshift spaces behind wire enclosures and others were kept in cages in the basement where visitors could go and see them. Because of the horrendous stench and concern for the animals’ well being, the animals were moved to the area surrounding the Arsenal in 1871. The first building for the menagerie was not constructed until 1875.

Although its medieval architecture doesn’t quite match the park’s aesthetic, the Arsenal has survived multiple demolition attempts by providing a diverse array of functions, from its usage as a state munitions facility and Police Precinct station, to the site of the Museum of Natural History, to its current role as home to the Department of Parks and Recreation and headquarters of the Central Park Zoo; it’s one of only two buildings in Central Park that predates the green space itself.

Read more on the history of the Central Park Arsenal here.