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Perry Lions
December 18, 2009

Perry Lions, early twentieth century

Roland Hinton Perry, Perry Lions; installed 1907 at the Taft Bridge, Washington, D.C. Photograph by Harting

Contemporary photograph of Perry Lions

Contemporary photograph of the recast Lions. Photo by Deborah Earle.

Historical photographs are important for the visual perspective they provide on the past; they are also fun to look at. I recently finished cataloging a collection of photographs dating from 1898 to 1940 and, as I worked with these images, I relished the opportunity to hold history in my hands. The American Sculpture Photograph Study Collection in the Photograph Archives of the American Art Museum is a rich visual resource on sculpture that was compiled by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for study purposes. It was later donated to American Art's Photograph Archives, where all the photographs have been digitized and are on line.

One of my favorite examples is this early twentieth-century photograph of the Taft Bridge in Washington, D.C. Sans paved road or traffic, it bears little resemblance to the Taft Bridge of today. It seems almost . . . quiet.

The Taft Bridge, which spans Rock Creek Park on Connecticut Avenue in northwest Washington, D.C., was erected between 1897 and 1906 and was one of the first pre-cast concrete bridges in America. Originally known as the Million Dollar Bridge, it was named in memory of President Taft in 1930. A pair of pre-cast concrete lions, designed by sculptor Roland Hinton Perry (1870–1941), flanks each approach to the bridge.

As Washington, D.C., prospered and grew, as political parties took turns in seats of power and presidents came and went, the Perry Lions remained watchful. However, the city was not as watchful over the lions. With exposure to the increasing pollution of the twentieth century and the fragile nature of the pre-cast concrete, the condition of the lions deteriorated dramatically. In 1993, when the condition of the lions was deemed “terminal,” they were stabilized and put into storage. Later, four new lions were recast by artist Reinaldo López-Carrizo using reinforced concrete and placed on the bridge in 2002.

In addition to recasting the lions for the bridge, López-Carrizo cast another pair of the lions in bronze to flank the main entrance of the nearby National Zoo. So whether you see them on the bridge or at the zoo, one hundred years after they were first erected, the Perry Lions still stand watch over Connecticut Avenue.

Posted by Nicole on December 18, 2009 in American Art Elsewhere, American Art Here


Love the old/new comparison. I stared at that old photo for a while, just appreciating the history in it - I am convinced black and white is 80% responsible!

Nicole, that's very good post - I love the "new" lions in the color photograph. it looks like they upgraded them like a new logo or something :)

I used to live by the lions and loved their watchful gaze over the traffic crossing the bridge. In looking at those pictures though, it appears that the lions' positions were reversed in 2002 to look inward toward the traffic instead of the original outward position in the old photo. I wonder if this was done on purpose?

Marnie, Great observation! I haven't read anything about the lions now facing inward, but I will do some more research. Also, one pair is supposed to be sleeping and the pair roaring but I've had a hard time telling the difference in the photographs. I'll let you know if I discover any new information. Thanks!

Much more attractive than the MGM lion in Los Angeles, and very "Olde Europe" looking. Way cool!

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