NYC - Bronx - Bronx Zoo: Keith W. Johnson Zoo Center
Two identical standing rhinoceroses flank the entrance to the Keith W. Johnson Zoo Center at the Bronx Zoo. Sculpted by Katherine Ward Lane Weems in 1936, they were modled after Bessie, who lived at the Zoo from 1923-1962. The original casts of the rhinoceros sculptures are on the campus of Harvard University. The Zoo's 1989 casts are popularly known as Bessie and Victoria. Funding was made possible by a grant from the Vincent Astor Foundation and the rights to the patterns were donated by the artist, prior to her death. The Keith W. Johnson Zoo Center was formerly known as the Elephant House. IAS files contain 1989 Zoo press release which describes the installation of the rhino sculptures.
The Zoo Center, formerly known as the Elephant House, was just one of six heavily ornamented beaux-arts style structures conceived conceived by William Hornaday and built by Heins & Lafarge for the opening of the Bronx Zoo in 1899. The others were the Aquatic Bird House (1899), the Reptile House (1900), the Primate House (1901), the Lion House (1903), the Large Bird House (1905).
The Elephant House, opened on November 20, 1908, was designed to resemble the royal menageries built by European aristocracy during the Middle Ages and Renaissance--modeled on the Palais des Hippopatamus in Antwerp, Belgium. Built for elephants, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses, there were eight large cages on the inside and the elephants occupied the outside yard.
A 1907 design competition held for the right to ornament the Elephant House with sculpture ended in a tie between Alexander Phimister Proctor and Charles Robert Knight with Proctor doing the south side, and Knight doing the north side. In 1989, the building was renovated and reopened as the Keith W. Johnson Zoo Center with rotating educational exhibits. Although the elephants were move to the Wild Asia exhibit, the friezes remain.
The Bronx Zoo, located within the Bronx Park, is the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States, comprising 265 acres of parklands and naturalistic habitats and home to over 4,000 animals. Focused on conservation, it opened on November 8, 1899, with 22 exhibits, 843 animals. The zoo's origins date back to 1895, with the establishment of the New york Zoological Society (NYZS), renamed Wild Conservation Scoiety (WCS) in 1993. Only the outer structure of the World of Reptiles remains much as it was in 1899. With the 1941 opening of African Plains, the Bronx Zoo was one of the first U.S. zoos to move away from cages and exhibit animals in naturalistic habitats.
George Lewis Heins & Christopher Grant Lafarge formed their partnership in 1886. In 1899, Heins was appointed New York State architect by Governor Theodore Roosevelt and he designed state buildings until his death in 1907. Their other work around New York includes Enoch Grand Lodge, Judson Memorial Church, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine and the Bowling Green IRT Control House.