Clio Logo

Two pairs of concrete lion sculptures have guarded the William Howard Taft Memorial Bridge over Rock Creek Park since 1906. Innovative at the time for their use of pre-cast concrete, these sculptures were designed by Roland Hinton Perry and are known as the Perry Lions. The original sculptures were installed in 1906, though they deteriorated over time due to weathering and lack of proper care. They were restored once in 1965 and then permanently removed in 1994. Using the original design, the Perry Lions were recast and placed on the bridge in 2000. These are the lions at the Taft Bridge today. Additionally, two bronze copies of the Perry Lions guard the National Zoological Park.


  • The lefthand Perry Lion is depicted asleep. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress.
  • The righthand Perry Lion is roaring. Each lion is twelve feet in length. Wikimedia Commons.
  • An early postcard depicting the Taft Bridge, with the original Perry Lions flanking either side. Image courtesy of Streets of Washington blog.

Lions are commonly represented in public art. They guard cultural institutions like the public libraries of New York and Boston or rest in London’s Trafalgar Square. Lions gained cultural significance in ancient civilizations like Egypt, Greece, Persia, and China, where represented power, protection, and majesty. Lion sculptures are found throughout modern Washington, D.C., including the Canova Lions at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (1860), the Piney Branch Bridge on 16th Street (1910), the Columbus Fountain (1912), the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial at the United States Capitol (1920), the National Law Enforcement Memorial (1991), and copies of the Perry Lions the National Zoo (2000). Among the earliest were the concrete lion sculptures designed by Roland Hinton Perry at the Taft Memorial Bridge.

The Taft Memorial Bridge extends Connecticut Avenue over Rock Creek Park, connecting the neighborhoods of Woodley Park, Sheridan-Kalorama, and Kalorama Triangle. It was known as the Connecticut Avenue Bridge until rededicated in memory of former president William Howard Taft in 1931. As the first masonry bridge in Washington, D.C., and the largest unreinforced concrete bridge in the world at the time, the Taft Bridge elicited enthusiasm for concrete as a practical yet creative building material. Sculptor Roland Hinton Perry was hired to create four concrete lion sculptures to enhance the bridge’s artistic qualities and welcome passersby.

Roland Hinton Perry (1870-1941) was well-known in D.C. for creating The Court of Neptune Fountain at the Library of Congress, which depicts dynamic figures of ancient Roman mythology. At the Taft Bridge, he created two pairs of lion sculptures, one lion roaring and one sleeping, at the bridge termini. Continuing with the Taft Bridge’s innovative building techniques and materials, Perry created the four lion sculptures in pre-cast concrete. Rather than casting the sculptures in place, Perry employed reusable molds to cast the sculptures and then transport them to the bridge. 

Though innovative, the concrete sculptures did not withstand time and weathering. By the 1960s, the Perry Lions were in desperate need of restoration. In 1964, the District Bridge Commission and Fine Arts Commission hired local sculptor Renato Lucchetti to restore and weatherproof the Perry Lions. Deterioration continued, however, and in 1993, the city hired Professional Restoration, Inc. to recast the sculptures in Perry’s original design. The original sculptures were removed in 1994 and placed in storage. The new Perry Lions were made of high-strength concrete and stainless steel reinforcements to ensure their longevity. They were placed at the Taft Bridge in 2000. At the same time, two bronze copies of the Perry Lions were cast and placed at the Connecticut Avenue entrance of the National Zoological Park, thanks to funds from a private donor. 

The Perry Lions continue to guard the Taft Bridge and represent a long history of public art in Washington, D.C.

Goode, James M. Washington Sculpture: A Cultural History of Outdoor Sculpture in the Nation's Capital. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. 

“The Million-Dollar Bridge.” Streets of Washington: Stories and Images of Historic Washington, D.C. Accessed October 2017. http://www.streetsofwashington.com/2009/11/million-dollar-bridge.html

National Park Service. “Connecticut Avenue Bridge, William Howard Taft Memorial Bridge.” National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form. Prepared by Betty Bird. Washington, D.C.:  National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 2003.  http://www.historicwashington.org/docs/Historic%20Landmark%20Application/Connecticut%20Avenue%20Bridge.pdf

National Park Service. “Old Woodley Park Historic District.” National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form. Prepared by Cynthia Field, Emily Hotaling Eig, and Katherine Grandine. Washington, D.C.:  National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 1990.  https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/127e029c-35a2-43e0-85b5-2e264fd218c5

National Park Service. "William H. Taft Memorial Bridge." Historic American Engineering Record. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Prepared by Amy Ross. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HAER DC-6) http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/item/dc0594/

Sedgley, Adam. “DC Sightseeing: The Lion Statues of the Nation’s Capital.” Flocking Somewhere. Blog. Accessed October 2017. http://www.flockingsomewhere.com/dc-sightseeing-the-lion-statues-of-the-nations-capital/

Smithsonian Institution. “Perry Lions.” Smithsonian American Art Museum. Blog. December 19, 2009. Accessed October 2017. https://americanart.si.edu/blog-post/963/perry-lions

Images:

“Details of Taft Bridge, NW, Washington, D.C.” Photo. 2010. Carol M. Highsmith. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. https://www.loc.gov/item/2010642102/

“Perry Lions – Taft Brdige.” Photo. 2010. AgnosticPreachersKid. Wikimedia Commons. Accessed October 2017. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Perry_Lions_-_Taft_Bridge.JPG

“The Million-Dollar Bridge.” Streets of Washington: Stories and Images of Historic Washington, D.C. Accessed October 2017. http://www.streetsofwashington.com/2009/11/million-dollar-bridge.html