Hagenbeck’s Zoological Arena

Most Chicago architects had very busy offices in the years leading up to the World’s Colombian Exposition. Joseph Lyman, mentioned below, who designed the Zoological Building at Highland Park Joseph Lyman Silsbee – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia was no exception. In addition to being preoccupied with promoting his novel invention, the “moving sidewalk” he was at work on designs for state buildings as well. One of his lesser known, yet possibly his most popular fair exhibit building was a large arena for German animal trainer and zoo pioneer Carl Hagenbeck.

Hagenbeck traveled the world to collect animal, archeological and human specimens to be showcased for public display. At the age of 21 he took over the animal display of his father in Hamburg, relocated and founded the first zoo ever to display animals in a more landscape environment rather than behind iron bars.

He also founded the circus Carl Hagenbeck, but after his son Lorenz Hagenbeck restarted it, it became really popular and traveled the world with its trained animals. Carl Hagenbeck is also credited as the person to invent the steel cage which could be erected in a circus ring to display big cats and bears. Till that that time most wild animal training was display from inside a beast wagon that would be rolled into the circus ring, or stood in the menagerie.

The World’s Columbian Exposition was a perfect place for Hagenbeck to showcase and market the items and animals that he uncovered in his travels.  The arena built for Hagenbeck for his animal and archeological showcase was at the east end of the Midway Plaisance. The show featured animals of every type including performing bears, lions, elephants, parrots and monkeys as well as an array of other exhibited animals.  Also on exhibit was an “Ethnological Museum” featuring sculpture, masks, and hunting implements from around of the world. 

The arena was ca. 18,58 m2 (200 feet square) and was designed to accommodate 5,000 spectators at a time. In addition to the large arena, the structure featured indoor beer gardens and cafes featuring German wines and food. It was two stories tall and was constructed of iron. Like most of the fair buildings it was covered in staff (a mixture of powdered gypsum, with a little cement, glycerin, and dextrin) which gave it its gleaming white appearance. The building was a Classical Revival structure that featured a symmetrical facade when viewed from the center of the Midway. A central pediment supported by paired columns marked the entry. Below the pediment, was an open cage that had a constant open exhibit of live lions. The facade of the arena was two-stories tall with broad corner turrets capped with large domes. Like most of the other exposition structures, the Zoological Arena was intended to be temporary and was demolished after the fair. 

Adress

Area between S Dorchester Ave, Midway Plaisance, E 60th street and S Blackstone Ave.
South Side
Chicago, Illinois
60637
USA

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