Sigmund Odenheimer, who immigrated from Germany in 1880, had an impressive career in New Orleans, leaving a legacy that still has an impact today. He was the president of Lane Cotton Mills from 1886-1945 as well as the first president of the Deutsches Haus. He also was an early benefactor to the Audubon Zoo, donating large sums of money in the 1920s to fund an aquarium and a monkey house.
The aquarium, opened in 1924, consisted of 15 fish tanks and a large tank in the center of the rotunda that held Audubon’s first sea lions. The tank was an inadequate home for the lively star attractions, so four years later – thanks to another donation from Odenheimer – a new sea lion pool was built.
Designed by Sam Stone and met with great enthusiasm and praise, the Greek revival theater with columns and ironwork was called “one of the most perfect pieces of architecture in the park.” Six sea lions arrived from California in July of 1928 and were an immediate hit, attracting large crowds daily, especially at feeding times.
A 1986 renovation created a more natural environment for the sea lions while also improving viewing accessibility. The still popular Greek columns ringing the pool were preserved while a beaching space for birthing, a large rock outcropping with cave and an underwater viewing area were added. Another renovation in 1992 added a 200-seat amphitheater, creating a space for expanded action-packed and educational sea lion shows, as well as a popular venue for weddings.
After Katrina, the five Audubon sea lions – Sushi, Porter, Lily, Cinnamon and Katie – were housed in Galveston, Texas, for two years while the Odenheimer Sea Lion Pool was restored. It reopened on February 14, 2008, and is still one of the most popular attractions at the zoo, thanks to the oversized personalities and entertainment skills of the sea lions in their beautiful pool.