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.

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One thought on “The Top 10 Secrets of Central Park Zoo in NYC

  1. The Central Park Zoo is a wonderful and underrated place…it’s a small zoo, but has a lot going for it — a great children’s exhibit, miniature jungles, a Penguin area, the seal island.

    Oddly enough, it owes all this to Robert Moses, who took the rundown zoo, and made it a modern facility, at the behest of his boss, the animal-loving Gov. Alfred E. Smith. At that time, the zoo was run by aging Tammany loyalties as sinecures, and the cages were disintegrating. The zookeepers were given rifles to shoot animals that got through the fence.

    At the zoo’s re-opening, Smith delivered the keynote, and cut it short so that the kids in attendance could join him in seeing the animals. Smith was made a “Night Superintendent,” allowing him to get into the zoo at any time, and after he left Albany, he spent a lot of time in the zoo, day and night, often consoling sick and dying animals.

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