National Zoo: Elephant House – Washington DC


The Elephant House at National Zoo was built in 1936-37 with a grant from the Public Works Administration (PWA). At the time, it was known as the Pachyderm House; it is also sometimes called the Large Mammal House.  

The Elephant House was designed in 1935 by Edwin Hill Clark, lead architect for all the New Deal additions to the National Zoo, as well as the Philadelphia zoo in 1930s.  The work was supervised by the Treasury Department Procurement Division’s architectural office.  The actual construction was undertaken by private contractors, Harwood-Nebel Construction and Huffman and Brown.

The Elephant House includes both indoor enclosures and rustic outdoor paddocks with moats instead of fences.  A report of the time describes it:

“The pachyderm house at the National Zoological Park is 227 by 90 feet and is a building for the exhibition of elephants, giraffes, rhinoceri, hippopotami, and pigmy hippopotami. In addition to the indoor cages, there are ample outdoor pens, separated from the public by deep moats, with the exception of the pen for giraffes, which is fenced. The interior cages are decorated with mural paintings showing landscapes characteristic of the habitat of the animals. The exterior walls are a random ashlar of native stone trimmed with limestone and with a granite base.” (Short & Stanley-Brown 1939)

Subsequent renovations have substantially changed many of the environments for the animals. 

Several artworks were also done for the Elephant House. Some of the indoor areas had background murals by Daniel Mortellito mimicking the look of the habitats from which the animals came; those seem to have disappeared.  There are sculptures above the doors by Ernest Springweiler and metal bas-reliefs and roundels on the floors by Charles Knight. 




Project Details

Federal Cost Local Cost Total Cost Project #'s
300000 300000

Source notes

Short, C. W. and R. Stanley-Brown, 1939.  Public Buildings: A Survey of Architecture of Projects Constructed by Federal and Other Governmental Bodies Between the Years 1933 and 1939 with the Assistance of the Public Works Administration.  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Virginia Price, Historic American Building Survey, National Zoological Park Elephant House,  HABS No. DC-777-C, c. 2006.  Washington DC: National Park Service.

Project originally submitted by Gray Brechin on December 4, 2011.
Additional contributions by Richard A Walker.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

3001 Connecticut Avenue
Washington, DC 20008

Coordinates: 38.9319, -77.0524

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