Construction is nearly complete on a $41 million makeover of the historic lion house at Lincoln Park Zoo. Underway since December of 2019, the project renovates and expands the landmark 1912 building designed by notable Chicago architect Dwight H. Perkins and will welcome visitors—along with a new pride of lions—this fall.
Chicago architecture firm Goettsch Partners and Seattle-based wildlife exhibit specialists PJA are leading the redesign of Lincoln Park's big cat facility. Previously known as the Kovler Lion House, the building was renamed the Pepper Family Wildlife Center following a $15 million gift from Roxelyn and Richard Pepper. Unsurprisingly, Pepper Construction serves as the project's general contractor.
The extensive renovation retains the landmark building's impressive brickwork, mosaics, and Guastavino tile ceiling while updating the big cat habitats and visitor areas. The sunken moat on the building's north side was removed so the animal environments could be extended to meet new glass viewing walls.
The enlarged savanna-style habitat will accommodate an entire pride of African lions as well as provide space for future offspring. There are elevated areas for the lions to enjoy and "food zip lines" for simulating the movement of live prey. Renovated habitats on the southern side of the structure will be home to other species including Canada lynx, snow leopards, and red pandas.
"With this renovation, the size of the lion habitat nearly doubled and will provide the lions with so many choices [such as] thermal comfort zones, trees for climbing, elevated rocks to give the lions high vantage points, areas to seek privacy, shade, and shelter, and special enrichment features to encourage species-specific behaviors," said Maureen Leahy, vice president of animal care and horticulture, in a statement.
Lincoln Park relocated its previous pride of lions to a new home at Rolling Hills Zoo in Salina, Kansas in 2019. Chicago's new lions are currently being housed at other institutions, according to the zoo. "We are eagerly awaiting the return of African lions to Lincoln Park Zoo,” said Leahy. "The transformation of the building provides a dynamic space for the lions and other species to thrive and will be a place for Chicagoans to support conservation of these vulnerable and endangered species in the wild."
The Pepper Family Wildlife Center renovation is the latest project in the zoo's $135 million Pride of Chicago capital improvement campaign which began in 2012. Additions include a new western gate, the macaque forest, a seal pool, an arctic tundra exhibit, a penguin cove, and a welcome pavilion and visitor center designed by Ross Barney Architects.