The National Zoological Park was planned by F.L. Olmstead & Co., one of the most
influential and prolific American landscape architectural firms in history, and its location in the spacious and picturesque
Rock Creek Valley marked an important departure from the 19th-century practice of confining
zoological collections to limited areas. In addition to its important place in the history of
landscape design, major scientific investigations, such as S.P. Langley's experiments in
aerodynamics, are also a significant part of the Zoo's history. The National Zoo preceded the
founding of the New York Zoological Park and Munich's Hellabrun Zoo, and thus may have been
the first major zoo to be located in a spacious, landscaped setting. The Zoological Park's primary
aim was not for the entertainment of people, but for the preservation of endangered animals
indigenous to the United States. The Zoo was created at a time when American's were
concerned about "the closing of the frontier" and the dominance of a new, urban, industrialized
society, and the Zoo's animals were reminders to visitors of the disappearing American
Wilderness. In addition to conventional animal houses, extensive pastures for grazing were
planned along with natural rock quarries to contain bears, a scheme that was unsuccessful. Only
two of the original buildings exist today, the Principal Animal House, now the lion house, and the
New Mammal House, the present monkey house.
Entrance to the Zoo
Photo courtesy of the DC SHPO
The Zoo borders Rock Creek Park with entrances at 3001 Connecticut Ave., on Harvard St. and
on Beach Dr. It is open daily from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm between April 15th and October 15th.
The rest of the year it is open daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. It is closed on December /5th.
Admission is free. For more information call
or visit the zoo's website. Metro stop: Woodley Park/Zoo