- Honey Bear, Dancing Goat
- Frederick George Richard Roth
- Date: ca. 1935
- Medium & size: Bronze, 6 feet.
- Location: Central Park Zoo, near 64th St. & Fifth Ave. The Bear is just north of the Delacorte Clock and slightly west, facing the 65th Street Transverse. The Goat is on the same building as the Bear, facing south toward the entrance to the zoo.
The Central Park Menagerie
In 1873, the Board of Commissioners of Central Park declined the gift of an angora goat, because they had been told the animal smelled “rank.” But they accepted every other animal donated to the park’s menagerie, from cats to cranes to coatimundi. Over the decades, the Commissioners ordered a series of temporary buildings and cages to house these animals. (See this essay on Tigress and Cubs, with pics.)
By 1930, the buildings were so ramshackle that the Commissioners were issuing rifles to the keepers of the menagerie. If the lions and tigers broke loose, the keepers had orders to shoot to kill.
The Moses Zoo
Enter, yet again, Robert Moses, who became sole Parks Commissioner in 1934, during the Great Depression. Moses had at his disposal tens of thousands of unemployed men and tens of millions of dollars from the federal government. What to do, and when and where?
Moses’s mentor, former governor Al Smith, asked Moses to please fix up the zoo. Moses oversaw the demolition of what he called the “filthy firetrap” and, in less than a year, oversaw the construction of nine buildings in what one critic called the “brick-and-tile lavatory style.”
The centerpiece of the new zoo was the sea lion pool, whose naturalistic look was at the time radically innovative. The courtyard around it was embellished with sculptures of fierce stone eagles.
Real eagles flew in cages at the corners. On the far side of the courtyard was Tigress and Cubs, moved from its original, ironic location in the wilds of Cherry Hill. (See this post.)
Surrounding the courtyard were the animal houses. Their friezes showed the inhabitants in naturalistic poses. They were designed by Frederick George Richard Roth, who had created Balto a decade earlier.
Roth himself sculpted two light-hearted figures for the fountains by the zoo’s cafeteria. The Bear has his tongue lolling out to collect honey. Frogs spout water at his feet.
The Goat gambols, as ducklings around his hooves dive for the water.
The zoo was renovated again in 1988, mostly to replace cages with natural-looking habitats; but the 1930s Moses design is still the basic layout.
- Robert Moses’s headquarters was in the renovated Arsenal: see this post.
- The Photo Archive of the New York City Department of Parks has some great photos of the Moses renovation. Since this blog is free and the photos aren’t, I haven’t included any of them. Info on the Photo Archive is here.
- Stay tuned for a post on the Lehman Gate and the Children’s Zoo. For more posts on the Park, click on the “Central Park” tag in the Obsessions cloud at lower right.
- For more on Central Park in the nineteenth century, see my book Central Park: The Early Years (details here) and my webpage incorporating an ever-increasing number of old images of the Park.
- This post is adapted from the forthcoming Guides Who Know app on Central Park.
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