A couple of miles down from Los Angeles Zoo lie the ruined rusty cages of the old city zoo, in Griffith Park. Today it’s closed and its cages are abandoned. However, the landscaped parkland of the former zoo is now more widely open to the public. Benches are installed and the area is considered as a great place for a picnics, photographers, buskers and small open-air concerts. Griffith Park is today one of the largest urban parks in the U.S., with more than 50 miles of official hiking trails to be explored within its boundaries.
Although very old, opened in 1912, Griffith Park Zoo was not the first zoo in Los Angeles. The first one was opened 27 years earlier in East L.A., under the name Eastlake Zoo.
Prior to becoming a zoo, Griffith Park had a different but similar purpose. It was a place for animals but they were not there as exhibits, they were meant for food. It was an ostrich farm, one that failed to succeed in its purpose. So Mr. Griffith decided to do something with the cages and the land, and donated his land to the city.
On the opening day in 1912 the zoo had a total of 15 animals, which was a significant amount for the era. This changed over time, with animal numbers slowly growing until the mid 1920s. Somewhere around 1925 a film producer named William Nicholas Selig closed his film studio and donated all of the animals he had owned for the purpose of filming to the Griffith Park Zoo.
Another expansion took place in the 1930s, this one of an aesthetic nature. The Works Progress Administration crew gave the park zoo a remake. They constructed and built artificial caves for the animals and installed iron bars around them. This was the standard style for all the zoos back then. In later years, the modern zoo cages became widely criticized as Los Angeles grew and became more modern. The papers were writing: “inadequate, ugly, poorly designed and under-financed collection of beat-up cages.” However the zoo was still very popular and attracted more than two million visitors every year.
As the criticism became more and more widespread, the local government decided it was time to finance the construction of a new more modern zoo. So in 1958 the City of Los Angeles allocated $8 million dollars of it’s budget for this purpose. And by 1966 the new Los Angeles Zoo was opened. All of the animals from Griffith Park Zoo were transferred to their new home just two miles away.
Griffith Jenkins Griffith was a journalist, industrialist, philanthropist, and a controversial public person. He banked a big amount of his fortune from a mining syndicate in the 1880s, and was also known to the public for his attempted murder of his wife. Apart from gifting to the city the park area that was later turned into the zoo named after him, in his will he also left money for two more features to be added on the premises. His bequeathment covered the construction of the Greek Theater and Griffith Observatory. Both are still standing and serving their purpose today.
Being a spot you don’t see everyday, in combination with it’s proximity to Hollywood, this ex-zoo park didn’t go unnoticed in films. It has been part of several T.V. shows, such as Starsky and Hutch, CHiPs, The New Adventures of Wonder Woman and Rush Hour“. It was also used as a set in the second Police Academy movie, Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment.