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Helping Chicago Bring Back its Pride


Owner Lincoln Park Zoological Society
Architect Goettsch Partners
General Contractor Pepper Construction
Photography Mark Ballogg

For more than a century, lions have reigned as the kings of their domain at Lincoln Park Zoo. Their "castle" was one of the Zoo's oldest structures – the original 1912 Lion House, which is a Chicago Landmark building. Unfortunately, after more than a century of use, the space had lost most of its majesty and everyone agreed that the lions deserved a better home.

A major renovation creates a source of pride for the pride

Work began on the exterior façade and interior spaces in December 2019 to create an exhibit that reflects the expert animal care Lincoln Park Zoo provides, promotes who they are as conservationists and improves the guest experience.

If it's not good enough for the lions, it's not good enough.

Maureen Leahy
Vice President of Animal Care and Horticulture, Lincoln Park Zoo

The Pepper team embraced this motto in every aspect of our work. For example, when what was described as clean soil was brought on to the site, the team knew that it needed to be checked. Lions like to dig, so it was essential that any new soil would pass the "good enough" test. Anything that didn't guarantee the lions' safety needed to be replaced without impacting the schedule or budget. 

Vice President of Animal Care and Horticulture Maureen Leahy set the bar high for the renovation project with a simple statement: If it's not good enough for the lions, it's not good enough. "I never had to 'sell' the Pepper team on this concept. After many years of partnership, they know what's important to the zoo and can predict what we're going to say," said Leahy.

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Technology made the Pepper Family Wildlife Center a "smart house"


With quality and safety built in, the new facility has tripled the lions' usable space and almost doubled the size of the holding areas. Every critical decision made throughout the renovation process was informed using technology.


How technology was used to enhance the lion habitat's design and construction

Learn more about ZooMonitor, a mobile app developed by Lincoln Park Zoo to record and analyze animal behavior.

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Learn more about how Pepper used virtual construction tools, including 3D modeling and laser scanning, to inform everything from faux rockwork to ensuring that the lions remain safely inside their open-air exhibit.

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An honor, a privilege…and a legacy

Helping to bring lions back to Lincoln Park Zoo in a way that blends the institution's past with its future has been a privilege. Before Richard Pepper, our long-term President, CEO and Chairman, passed away in January 2021, he and his wife, Roxy, made a significant donation to Lincoln Park Zoo to fund the Pepper Family Wildlife Center. They also made a contribution to support a lion conservation fund.

As a result of this commitment, the lion house has been renamed Pepper Family Wildlife Center. We are extremely proud of our relationship with Lincoln Park Zoo that led to this opportunity and honored to have been part of bringing this legacy project to life.  

We see the gift as an opportunity to give back to the city that’s given so much to us with its natural, cultural and business landscapes. We want to build a legacy that ensures its historic institutions are sustained while modernizing with the times.

Richard S. Pepper

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