Griffith Park Zoo – An Abandoned Zoo In Los Angeles

Griffith Park Zoo Abandoned

In 1912, Griffith Park Zoo was opened in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, USA and proved instantly popular. As the years progressed however, it was realised that more space was needed and so the entire zoo was moved 3.2 km (2 miles) north to a new location within Griffith Park in 1966. It was renamed LA Zoo & Botanical Gardens after the move.

Enclosure in the abandoned Griffith Park Zoo

An enclosure in the abandoned Griffith Park Zoo. The size of the cage was completely inadequate.

Eastlake Park Zoo in East Los Angeles was the first zoo in the LA area and opened in 1885 in what is now known as Lincoln Park. It remained popular until around 1910, helped by the presence of two streetcar lines and a focus on developing Eastlake Park into one of the premiere recreational areas in Los Angeles.

Not too far away, in the Santa Monica Mountains, businessman Griffith J. Griffith had purchased Rancho Los Feliz. He started an ostrich farm on the land, supplying feathers to cope with the demands of the fashion trends of time. His property developments in the area were said to have been haunted by the ghost of Antonio Feliz, a previous owner of the property. In 1896, Griffith donated 3,015 acres (1,220 ha) to the city of Los Angeles for the creation of Griffith Park.

The Hollywood Sign from Griffith Observatory

The Hollywood Sign as seen from Griffith Observatory. It originally read Hollywoodland to promote a housing development and the “land” was removed in 1949. It was severely dilapidated by 1978 when Playboy’s Hugh Hefner led a campaign to have it restored.

Griffith Park Zoo opened in 1912 and had 15 animals initially. It was owned by the city of Los Angeles and built on land within the park which had previously been the location of the defunct ostrich farm. The zoo was built quite haphazardly with animals in stockades.

Film producer William Nicholas Selig donated a number of animals to the zoo in the mid 1920s after attempts to turn his studios into a theme park failed. He initially stocked his zoo with animals used in his studio’s jungle pictures and cliffhangers and later expanded to incorporate mechanical rides, a hotel, a large swimming area, theaters and restaurants. Selig Zoo Park struggled and the zoo closed, become an on-location lot for animal scenes. Further decline saw it reduced to an animal rental service and so Selig decided to donate the animals to Griffith Park Zoo and become a literary agent.

Selig Zoo 1924

The entrance to the Selig Zoo in 1924.

The zoo was extended in the 1930s by work crews from the Works Progress Administration, a scheme created to help jobseekers find employment undertaking public works. The new enclosures were built as caves with iron bars as was popular at the time. The post-depression era saw a boom in visitor numbers to the zoo. During World War II, the trend continued as people visited the zoo to take their minds off events overseas.

Despite the improvements made to the zoo, the facility was still inadequate for the number of animals housed there. The bears escaped their cage at the zoo after the great New Year’s Flood of 1934, one of which bit a keeper and was never seen again. A monkey found its way into the Griffith Park Observatory in 1937. Other animals received injuries after falls or collisions. It had become obvious that Griffith Park Zoo was no longer fit for purpose and a solution would need to be found for the overcrowding problem.

Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman was particularly outspoken and she championed the building of a new zoo in Elysian Park. Infighting among the staff led to keepers resigning and accusations of animals being mistreated. The local press followed the developments behind the scenes at the zoo leading to much embarrassment for the city. The continued focus on the inadequate facilities led to them passing an $8 million bond measure to create a brand new zoo, under the working title World Zoo. 2,000 animals were relocated from Griffith Park Zoo to the new facility. Los Angeles Zoo opened on 28 November 1966.

Los Angeles Zoo

The entrance to the “new” Los Angeles Zoo.

The old zoo was abandoned and although some of the enclosures were stripped, some remain. The former zoo is open to the public as a picnic area and hiking trail. The site has become popular among urban explorers as a result.

Abandoned Griffith Park Zoo

A stairway in a keepers area of an enclosure.

Abandoned Griffith Park Zoo in California

Many of the old enclosures had their cages removed and are now open for the public to explore.

The new Los Angeles Zoo almost went the way of its predecessor in the early 1990s.  In January 1992, a water pipe burst, leaving half of the zoo without water. The next day, city officials passed a $300 million master plan to deal with the infrastructure problems and inadequate exhibits. Since then, vast improvements have been made to the facility and Los Angeles Zoo is now thriving.

Location: Los Angeles, California, USA 🇺🇸
Abandoned: 1966


1 thought on “Griffith Park Zoo – An Abandoned Zoo In Los Angeles”

  1. Another abandoned place is Fort Lauderdale, Fl. Yankee Stadium. For many years the Yankees held Spring Training off of Commercial Boulevard. You could not get a seat, standing room only. Ball players walking around at times in public areas.

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