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Chester Zoo's Fountain Restaurant

The Fountain Restaurant was built in 1960 on the site of a riding school previously acquired by Chester Zoo. Its low, flat-roofed form and squared design, albeit carefully tapering outwards from the central water feature and gardens, mark it as a pleasing example of Fifties Modern architecture, of a piece with contemporaneous works such as the Pennine Tower at Forton Services on the M6 and some of BR’s rebuilt midsized stations of the period (e.g. Radcliffe Central).

Once the centrepiece of the zoo and the favoured picnic spot for many visitors, the writing was on the wall for it when the main entrance was relocated from the vicinity behind the building to the other side of the park, and today it can appear to the modern visitor as somewhat of a backwater on the way to the lions. Latterly, it lost the catering function (except for a snack kiosk at the rear) and was converted into a gift shop, probably when the Ark Restaurant (redeveloped as June’s Pavilion in 2011) opened near the location of the old entrance gates. Most likely the building’s layout and location, partway into the site, made it unsuited to a modern food facility. However, the vibrant flower displays that are a highlight of the postcard view above do seem to have become rather toned down now and there is a sense that the times have moved on from this unfairly neglected gem in the midst of the zoo - on each visit, I find myself wondering if the fountain and shop are fated to be the subject of the next ‘exciting’ redevelopment, which would be a pity. To be fair, Chester is amply supplied with appealing lunch spots and with the fountain now further from the entrance, you’re more likely to be ready for a break by the time you reach it - although you might equally have reached some other distant point on this extensive site by then. And of course, unless you have food with you, the nearest source of comestibles is not immediately apparent. If they’re not already poised to redraw this attractive corner of their estate, there’s a promising opportunity here for the Zoo’s management to refresh a key piece of its legacy and give a focal point to their heritage aspects.

[Disclaimer: Having moved away from the area, I haven’t visited the Zoo for a number of years now and it’s possible that matters have moved on from the state of affairs above, for better or worse.]