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Monday, January 8, 2018

Southern California Vol. 8 - The Old L.A. Zoo

This will be our last excursion to Griffith Park for now, but it's a great interactive one for anyone visiting with an hour to spend on a short hike.  As mentioned in my previous posts about the Griffith Observatory and the Griffith Curse, this place is a jewel of sorts in the middle of Los Angeles.  Sure, there may be weirdness and chaos in places, but overall it's a fabulous place to visit and honestly one of my favorite places in L.A.

Back in 1912, the Griffith Park Zoo opened with a whopping 15 animals on display.  It wasn't the first zoo in Los Angeles.  That honor goes to the Eastlake Zoo that opened in the late 1800's, but the Griffith Zoo was plenty popular.  Built on the site of a defunct ostrich farm, it was attracting over two million visitors a year by the time it was closed in the 1960's.

Now this would normally be where I tell you that it was the curse that lent a hand to the zoo's demise but in reality it was just progress.  The Griffith Zoo was a relic by 1966 and the public was realizing that keeping animals in cages was cruel.  A call had gone out to update the zoo and so L.A. did just that, relocating the animals once the new zoo was completed.

The thing that makes the old zoo noteworthy now is that it's still in the park and easily accessible to visitors.  Most of the enclosures were left as they were when the zoo closed.  The city put in some picnic tables and renamed it the Old Zoo Picnic Area.  There are two loop trails that you can take to get to the enclosures.  One will take you by the larger "cave" pens and the other takes you by the smaller cages.

Of course, they're mostly graffiti'd up at this point, but it's still interesting to hike out there and see what was once a big tourist draw.  Better yet, the hike isn't strenuous.  It's about a mile and a half from start to finish and while it does climb, it does so gradually.

At the start and finish of the loop there is a carousel that also played a huge part in the popularity of Southern California.  The Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round was built in 1926 by the Spillman Engineering Company.  It began its life down in San Diego but was moved to Griffith Park in 1936.  

A local resident, who happened to make animated films, made a habit of taking his kids down and letting them ride the carousel on weekends.  One day, while his kids were riding around and around, he looked at the crowd of families and thought to himself, "I should make something like this on a much larger scale."

The man was Walt Disney and he publicly credited this merry-go-round with inspiring him to create Disneyland.  

So when you do decide to visit Griffith Park, carve out some time to take a short hike through the old zoo and finish up with a ride on one of the most inspirational merry-go-rounds of all time.

Until then, if you're looking for excitement, why not pick up a copy of my book The Wash on Amazon.  That's right, I'll never stop plugging this thing until my next book comes out.  


Lisanne Harrington said...

And even then, don't stop plugging The Wash!

This hike sounds like a lot of fun but unfortunately, my lungs prohibit even a tiny incline. So this blog is good so I can live vicariously!

Can't wait to see where you explore next.

Cary said...

Glad you enjoyed it. At the very least, the merry-go-round is in the parking lot so if you do find yourself up that way, take a moment to check it out.