Can the man who gave Universal CityWalk its distinctive look jazz up the Los Angeles Zoo?
Mayor Richard Riordan hopes so.
Riordan has asked renowned architect Jon Jerde to take a stab at updating the entrance to the zoo, and possibly more. In addition to CityWalk, Jerde’s credits include the Westside Pavilion, San Diego’s Horton Plaza and the design theme for the 1984 Summer Olympics.
“He has come up with some great plans for the zoo,” said Steve Soboroff, president of the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission and a senior advisor to the mayor.
Soboroff declined to disclose details, but said the Venice-based architect has done some preliminary work focused on the entrance.
Any actual design changes would require approval by the Zoo Commission and the City Council.
Jerde refused comment, and spokesman Rick Poulos said the work Jerde has done so far was little more than scribbling on a master plan map.
Soboroff, however, said a few quick sketches from Jerde were enough to excite city officials about the possibilities.
“It’s like Picasso scribbling on a napkin,” Soboroff said.
The architect has developed a reputation for quirky and even brazen designs that attract attention.
The L.A. Zoo long has struggled in the shadow of the San Diego Zoo, and upgrading the facility is a top priority of Riordan, said the mayor’s spokeswoman, Noelia Rodriguez.
Zoo Director Manuel Mollinedo said he had spoken with Jerde about a month ago and said the architect was “very interested” in helping out.
“He said he would put together ideas for dressing up the front of the zoo,” said Mollinedo. “People drive by and don’t even know it’s there. It doesn’t have much pizzazz.”
The zoo’s accreditation was in jeopardy in the mid-1990s over such issues as the condition of animal habitats and the height of perimeter fencing.
In an attempt to better manage the facility, the mayor and City Council named an advisory Zoo Commission to oversee operations.
One recent improvement is the Great Ape exhibit, a $15 million project now underway to improve the habitats for the zoo’s chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.
Financing for the exhibit came from the 1992 Proposition A funds and the zoo’s fund-raising arm, the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association.
Mollinedo said there are plans in the works with the Zoo Association to raise $25 million over the next five years, which, combined with Proposition A money, could be used to finance any improvements that may be suggested by Jerde or others.