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They’re models of craftsmanship and a testament to the can-do spirit that pulled us out of the Depression. They’re home to hundreds of animals and a big part of what makes our Zoo unique. They’re The Toledo Zoo’s unparalleled collection of buildings constructed under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, or WPA.
The Toledo Zoo is home to several buildings that were constructed during this time, including the Reptile House, the Amphitheatre, the Museum of Science, the Aquarium, and the Aviary. Not only are these buildings still in use, most of them are still being used for their original purpose.
The construction of the Zoo’s WPA buildings got underway in 1933, with the Reptile House. In addition to the Moorish and Spanish influences that give the building a rustic charm, the Reptile House is remarkable in that it is constructed almost entirely from salvaged materials. The brick, stone and timber were brought in from discarded structures from around the area, including the Milburn Wagon Works, the Wabash Railroad shops, and the locks from the former Miami and Erie Canal. At its 1934 dedication, a plaque was unveiled chronicling all these “recycling” efforts; that plaque stands today as early evidence of the Zoo’s resourcefulness. That same eagerness to make the most of available resources informs our practices to this day as we seek to act in “green” ways whenever possible.
Dedicated in 1936, the Zoo’s Amphitheatre has seen a veritable Who’s Who in the Performing Arts cross its stage. From symphonic conductor Leopold Stokowski and jazz great Louis Armstrong to rock performers such as Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, the Zoo’s Amphitheatre has played host to some true legends. For more than 50 years, the Amphitheatre has also been the home for Music Under the Stars, in which the Toledo Concert Band under the direction of Sam Szor has delivered delightful pops programming, free of charge. No matter what the genre, fans of the performing arts have been enchanted by the beautiful architecture and intimate setting of this area treasure.
Museum of Science
Since its dedication in 1936, the Museum of Science has served as an educational center for the Zoo, a home to temporary exhibits, and a headquarters for the Lights Before Christmas. It houses Amazing Amphibians, an exhibit dedicated to frogs, salamanders and caecilians. At Amazing Amphibians you can see our amphibian conservation efforts in action for Kihansi spray toads and Wyoming toads. The Crawl Space is a great place to see some large species of insects and spiders. The Inddor Theatre is also a piece of zoo history, and its stage still features entertainment throughout the year as part of our annual events.
The Aviary was the last Zoo building to be completed under the auspices of the WPA. As you might expect from a building designed here in the Glass City, the Aviary was one of the first buildings to use glass blocks as part of its architecture. To this day, those glass blocks provide much of the natural light that makes a visit to the Aviary such a wonderful experience. In 1998, the Aviary underwent an amazing makeover. Innovative new walk-through exhibits were added, along with new interpretive areas and remodeled bird habitats. In 1999, the newly renovated Aviary won the Exhibit Award for Excellence from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
In renovating the Aviary, we’re proud to have brought in fresh ideas without compromising the architectural of that historic structure. We plan to bring that same level of commitment to the Aquarium when we begin renovations there in the near future. The Aquarium is already a marvel of craftsmanship. Its cement pilings reach 60 feet into the ground, preventing the building from significantly settling despite bearing the weight of thousands of gallons of water. In the future, that type of engineering will be of even greater value as the Aquarium is expected to feature massive shark tanks, as well as the type of bold new exhibits you’ve come to expect from The Toledo Zoo.
These WPA-era buildings do far more than simply provide shelter. They are an integral part of the Zoo experience and they stand as a monument to the heritage of both The Toledo Zoo and this region as a whole.