Today, I decided I would check out the old Los Angeles Zoo, located in Griffith Park. My students gave me the idea. They are loving my new personal challenge to go somewhere new everyday. It is now a ritual when they walk into class to ask me what about my daily excursion plans. Some of my students even made lists with ideas. Many had “The Old Zoo” in Griffith Park on their lists. They said they have heard stories about hauntings and weird occurances.
So just like the previous locations, I Googled the address and directions but refused to read any of the stories or legends until after my visit. So after work, I headed down to Griffith Park. When I got there, I realized that I have never really explored this famous park. I went to the Observatory once in college with my friend Matt, an LA native. And I have been to the Griffith Park Travel Town a few times but that was it. So I thought it would be best to stop at the Ranger Station to get a map and ask directions so I wouldn’t get lost.
It turns out that the Old Zoo is very close to the Ranger Station (and Merry-Go-Round). I followed the Ranger’s directions and parked in the “Old Zoo” picnic area parking lot. This is when strange things started to happen. As I made my way to the path, I heard someone yell “Miss B.” One of my students ran up to me. It turns out they were having a county track meet through the park . . . through the Merry-Go-Round area . . . and through the “Old Zoo.” Hundreds of teenagers, coaches and cheering parents every where. It was like the Universe was playing another cosmic joke on me.
I had just spent my day with loud teenagers. I used these solo expeditions as a way of achieving peace and quiet after a daily grind that left me with ringing ears from all the chatter, giggling, and drama that is wrapped up in the world of the American teenager. So things were not working out exactly as planned. But I wasn’t going to give up on my plans and made my way up to the “Old Zoo.”
Though I do have to admit it was comical, and a bit ironic, to see the teenagers hanging out in the old animal cages while waiting for their races. It there weren’t legal issues with taking pictures of minors without parental consent, I could have had a field day with the caged teenager metaphor.
Thankfully, the teenagers were only lingering in the front part of the Zoo. Once I made my way up through the entrance, I was by myself. The abandoned Zoo was mine for exploring. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t that much to explore. There were abandoned cages and animal “sancutaries.” There was a building, tagged with graffitti. But overall, it felt like a walk through area at Universal Studios, the kind that would just give you a glimpse into another world. It wasn’t long before you had made your way through the area and reached one of the many Griffith Park hiking trails.
It is an interesting place to visit but I wasn’t getting any paranormal feelings. It is an abandoned Zoo, vandalized and left in a state of Urban decay. It would be a great place for a photo shoot. And if you love hiking, I would highly recommend it. Just bring bug spray because the flies, gnats, and mosquitoes are bothersome, at least they were for me.
When I returned home, I decided to look into the history of the abandoned zoo. In 1913, the city of Los Angeles moved the zoo from the area that is currently known as Lincoln Park to Griffith Park. They wanted a more natural setting for the animals so they chose a ravine in the park located next to the area where the Merry-Go-Round now sits. There were plans to raise $10,000 for the construction of the new zoo but fundraising efforts stalled and they were left with only $2,000. With low funding, the animals were kept in stockades, welded wires encircling groups of trees. Within a few years, they were able to add an aviary, bear pits, and cages but it still wasn’t the kind of zoo one would imagine for Los Angeles.
There were so many problems with the poorly funded, free admission, Los Angeles Zoo. They couldn’t afford to have their own Vet on staff so many of the animals became ill or contracted highly contagious diseases. There were also issues with the sewage system. In 1916, the Health Department almost shut down the zoo because sewage was seeping into the LA River. And it kept getting worse. During World War I, the Los Angeles City Council decided to withdraw their authorization for the zoo to feed beef to the meat-eating animals. They tried to switch to an alternate meat source but the majority of the meat-eating animals died. In 1923, the city park commissioners drew attention to the poor conditions of the zoo and predicted that if things didn’t approve, it would soon be closed and the animals housed there would be “disposed.”
Somehow, the zoo managed to survive and in the mid-1930s, it was renovated and expanded as a Works Progress Administration project. With the free admission, the newly renovated Los Angeles Zoo drew large crowds, as well as heavy criticism. By the 1950s, “zoo-bashing” became a political norm. Everyone talked about abandoning or moving the zoo to a better setting where a zoo could be built that would be adequate for a city with the size and population of Los Angeles. The LA Daily News even called the Griffith Park zoo “an inadequate, ugly, poorly designed and under-financed collection of beat-up cages.” In May 1958, Angelenos voted and approved an $8 million bond to build a new “World Zoo.” In the fall of 1964, a ground-breaking ceremony was held for the new city-run Greater Los Angeles Zoo, located at the site of the Roosevelt Golf Course at the northeast end of Griffith Park. The old Zoo officially closed in 1965 but it is still used today as a site for the filming of movies and TV shows.
I couldn’t find any real urban legends linked to this specific site, except a few about haunted animals roaming the area at night (they were probably real animals). Griffith Park itself is shrouded in numerous Urban Legends, myths and curses. But that I will leave for another day.