Some architects have slipped through the fingers of Chicago historians, causing them to be largely forgotten by our city and its residents. These include architects who built our schools, hospitals, homes, and bridges, structures used every day and overlooked as banal rather than garnering the attention they deserve. One such architect is Dwight H. Perkins, who is best known for his Lion House at the Lincoln Park Zoo and Carl Schurz High School on the North Side. Perkins may not be mentioned alongside Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, but he was talented, well-respected and gave a lot to this fine city.
Perkins' most visible project is the Lincoln Park Zoo Lion House, built in 1912, which is still home to lions, tigers, and bears--oh my!--as well as other large cats. The brick building with iron detailing features mosaics of two lions facing one another. They make the keystone of an arch on opposite facades. Inside would be somewhat dark if it weren't for the brightening effects of the white-glazed terra cotta ceiling, shaped in a woven pattern, and the clerestory, a horizontal line of windows towards the ceiling.
Perkins was also the man behind two other Lincoln Park buildings: Cafe Brauer and North Pond Cafe- which was originally a warming station for North Pond ice-skaters.
Café Brauer is the modern name for the building that was originally South Pond Refectory; its modern moniker comes from a restaurant of the same name that resided in the Refectory in the early 1910s. Perkins built this curved building, following the lines of South Pond, with two mini-plazas connected by the main building in 1908. You might remember it as where you could rent huge swan paddleboats.
Generally blocked off from public view but popular as a wedding venue, the Great Hall on the second floor features a remarkable glass ceiling, flooding the room with sunlight. Surrounding the base of the skylight are multiple small murals of the original landscape of the Chicago-area. Perkins' wife, Lucy Fitch Perkins, painted them, and she was a children's book author & illustrator. According to the 1956 biography written by the couple's daughter, this kind of collaboration is characteristic of the couple.
To see Perkins' architecture, the buildings mentioned above can be enjoyed during a stroll through Lincoln Park and its Zoo. Some of Perkins' other work is also accessible, like the former architectural studios of his firm Perkins, Fellows, & Hamilton at 814 North Michigan Avenue or Charles Hitchcock Hall at the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park.
Written with the help of Hannah Allen
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