Opened in 1912 and situated in the western corner of Franklin Park, the 72-acre zoo is New England’s largest. While Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., who designed Franklin Park, felt that zoos were incompatible with pastoral city parks, he did plan for naturalistic areas featuring native animals. Arthur Shurcliff’s design for the zoo worked with Olmsted’s Picturesque plan but supplemented it with animals from equatorial climates. Some of the earliest elements to be installed were the Asian-inspired bird house designed by William Austen and The Greeting, a half-mile long pedestrian mall lined with fifty elm trees. Built in 1918, the main entrance, called the Zebra Entrance, was marked by eight classical granite columns taken from the Custom House Tower before their removal in 2007. Smaller gates were added in 1934. The entrance connects with the larger park through The Greeting’s graceful promenade. The Giraffe Entrance opens to the interior of Franklin Park and is framed by two marble statues designed by Daniel Chester French, which were installed in 1928.
In 1958 management of the zoo was transferred from the City of Boston to the Metropolitan District Commission, which hired the zoo’s first professional zoologist and established the Children’s Zoo. In 1991 zoo ownership was transferred to the Commonwealth Zoological Corporation (now Zoo New England), which opened several exhibits focused on Africa and Australia and the butterfly habitat. Exhibits are organized according to biome and animal type, with Naturalistic designs that allow animals free movement in spaces that approximate their natural habitat.