Where the Wild Things Were

I’ve heard about the Old Los Angeles Zoo for years now. It was always a mysterious place that I was apparently really close too, but never made the effort to actually find and explore. That changed today.

The first clue we were getting close was the stenciled lion spray-painted on a rock along the path. There was also some fencing along the right side of the walkway. It’s an offshoot of a hike further up the hill into Griffith Park, so I do kinda feel like if you didn’t know it was there you could – like the friend who showed me the way – happen upon it by pure chance. Like most good discoveries.

This is the first cage/enclosure you come to. I’m not sure what animals might have been in here, but you’re able to walk inside and see what it was like from their perspective. While the size of the cage leaves MUCH to be desired (even tho it’s bigger than most of the rest of the ones we saw)…the view is nice:

According to one article I read, this may have been the vet’s office. According to a sign at the site, this zoo location opened in 1912 and closed in 1965. “Many of the walls, grottos, and enclosures were built in the 1930s by County Relief Workers and Work Progress Administration. Once, bears, lions, monkeys, macaws, goats, elephants, reptiles, and turtles, among others lived here.” It then goes on to say the “historic enclosures are no longer appropriate for housing animals.” I venture to counter they were never appropriate.

From the vet’s building, you pass the tops of the larger animal enclosures. I’m guessing this is how the zookeepers fed and monitored the bears and such. They built with the hill, which is cool.

Something I read mentioned that these may have been monkey cages. I hope they were little monkeys.

Around the bend the enclosures get slightly bigger. Guessing lions and goats? Many of them had caves in the back, some had small pools in the front corner, but none of them were much larger than an average bathroom.

(I know I’m giving the zoo a hard time size-wise, but I have to say I very much enjoyed walking through it and seeing a slice of history I don’t feel like you usually see. Think a ghost town, animal-style.)

I also much prefer the natural habitats many zoos now have to these bar and lock combos of yesteryear. (*cough* STL Zoo is the best. *cough*)

The outer fence has been put there after the fact, but still, tiny enclosures. And it was crazy how – in many cases – you would have been able to (if you were daring/dumb enough) stick your hands in between the bars pretty easily.

An example of one of the bigger enclosures, I’m guessing bears or elephants? These were definitely more familiar looking and similar to what some zoos have today. Still too small, but…Now they’re picnic grounds, which is fun. I like to imagine that a bear enjoyed laying right where I am. I also wonder if the rocks are supposed to look like teeth, or if it just happened to turn out that way.

We climbed in to get a peek at the bottom of one of the stair cases we had seen from above.

I doubt that hay is left over from the 1960s, but I liked to imagine it. The animal smell isn’t overwhelming, if at all noticeable. We hiked around a bit and came across this view. It totally reminded of Lion’s Head in Cape Town. Not as tall or dramatic, but enough for nostalgia to set in.

I miss the rains down in Africa.

The hike to and from the old zoo rises up from the area above the merry-go-round, so we took advantage.

The carousel was built in the 1920s for an amusement park in Mission Beach (down in San Diego)…from there it Merry-Go-Rounded in Balboa Park before moving up to Griffith Park in 1937.

It’s a four row, “jumper” (I’m guessing this means the horses go up and down, because they do) machine, which apparently makes it rare.

It features 68 hand-carved horses, some more than 100 years old.  The older ones having apparently survived the fire of the Lincoln Park Carousel.

Some of them have been bejeweled. I kinda feel like this is a recent update, but I guess you never know. I mean I can’t imagine them altering them all that much.

The history of this carousel doesn’t stop there. Apparently Walt Disney often brought his daughters here in the 1940s and would sit on a nearby bench and dream of building Disneyland. That (and the rest of the factoids I’ve presented here), according to the note card they give you when you buy your tickets. As if you could miss this:

Walt sat there, but you can't.

I’m not sure how many guys read this, but take note. My friend Meagan and I decided this was and would be the most lovely of day dates. The old zoo and surrounding hikes offers plenty of walk-and-talk time, there are picnic locales both near the enclosures and down by the carousel. And then there’s the carousel itself. A two-dollar fun fest of memories.

To find the old zoo, park in the merry-go-round parking lot (in Griffith Park), and walk up the hill. The concrete path will fork. Go right and walk for a bit. You’ll find it.

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