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
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
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
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
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!