Goettsch Goes Beast Mode at Lincoln Park Cat House

"Attica! Attica! Attica!"
“Attica! Attica! Attica!”

If the only reason you go to the Lincoln Park Zoo is for the Christmas lights display, now there’s another reason: To check out the historic Lion House.

Even we have to admit the Lion House was pretty depressing. It smelled bad. It was crowded. It was noisy. And you can’t help but feel bad for the beasts behind the wire waiting for that big litter box in the sky. The only reason to go in during ZooLights was to use the bathrooms. Which also smelled bad, were crowded and noisy, and you couldn’t help but feel bad for the people waiting in line for the porcelain litter boxes in the basement.

That’s all in the past, thanks to a $41,000,000 renovation of what is now called the Pepper Family Wildlife Center. Designed by Goettsch Partners, the old lion house has been spruced up, and doubled in size, while preserving the existing building. According to a press release:

November, 2021 photo of the Pepper Family Wildlife Center at the Lincoln Park Zoo. (© Tom Harris. Courtesy of Goettsch Partners.)
November, 2021 photo of the Pepper Family Wildlife Center at the Lincoln Park Zoo. (© Tom Harris. Courtesy of Goettsch Partners.)
Jabari says hi at the Lincoln Park Zoo in November, 2021. (Courtesy of Goettsch Partners.)
Jabari is the mane attraction at the Lincoln Park Zoo. (Courtesy of Goettsch Partners.)

The design team worked closely with the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to preserve, restore and enhance the architecturally significant features of the original Arts and Crafts structure, including the masonry, clay tile roof, and copper gutter, along with windows and doors.

That’s for the people. For the critters, it gets even better:

 The savanna-style habitat includes detailed rockwork to introduce climbing features and expand environmental options for the lions while providing embedded heating and cooling elements for climate control. Tree structures and deadfall are made from trees certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and food ziplines, simulating prey, provide an enrichment opportunity for the lions.

If you think a “food zipline” is great idea for Thanksgiving dinner, remember Aunt Marjorie’s forking incident of 2008. And she’s not any faster these days.

Looking at the lions is done through 1½-inch-thick glass, to keep the kitties safe from the kiddies. And now there’s a “Lion Loop” which allows you to go underground and look up at the big cats.

The cat house is home to lions, snow leopards, lynx, and red pandas. Which aren’t pandas. They’re sorta-kinda related to skunks.

Another good reason to visit the Lincoln Park Zoo is because it’s still freaking free. At a time when taking the family to the Field Museum and lunch downtown requires a second mortgage, the zoo is a bargain, and something of which all Chicagoans should be proud.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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