The Old Zoo

The Old Zoo
Los Angeles’ Griffith Park is the setting for many urban legends and ghost stories, but within the park itself there truly is no stranger place than the remains of the old zoo. The advent of the movie industry, so the story goes, necessitated many unusual animals to be brought to the area. During and after filming, these creatures needed to be kept safely away from city denizens. Thus, Los Angeles’ second zoo was created in 1912, the same year that Pasadena’s “Suicide Bridge” was built. At the time, there were a few private animal collections available for visit in the city, and local government was occupied with various recessions. Hence, the enclosures were built from minimal funding, often from free labor, in a manner considered ‘slapdash.’ The collection was equally bizarre: monkeys, wolves, turtles, and a camel with two broken humps lived here. The collection grew over the years to include kangaroos, wallabies, and big cats.

With understanding of humane animal treatment still a few decades in the future, the cages were confining and uncomfortable for the creatures that lived inside, some for years. Weird tales soon arose of strange muggings and odd visions in the minds of visitors. A turtle fight arising for seemingly no reason was witnessed one day -- in the aviary. Stores of animal cannibalism circulated through the community, and the area gained a reputation for being dark and disturbing.

In 1965, the city constructed a new zoo nearby, with updated enclosures and habitat. Rather than destroy the first park, however, the city turned what was now known as the ‘old zoo’ into a recreational area. Hiking trails between it and various other Griffith Park attractions allow visitors to get exercise while they play tourist. The strange granite buildings and metal cages still left standing appear in stark contrast to the surrounding meadows and hills. Many of the enclosures can be walked through; some even host picnic tables. And, of course, the film industry used the area for a backdrop.

Not everyone who visited the picturesque site remained comfortable, however. A 2010 film crew reported feelings of nausea and trepidation. Visions of malnourished, angry animals appeared as well. Joining the stories of mysterious beasts loose in the hills above the ironically named Los Feliz, these tales added to the idea of the Old Zoo as a mysterious and paranormally active area.

If you’re interested in visiting the Old Zoo, drive to Griffith Park. Leave your car at the Merry-Go-Round area on Crystal Springs Drive and take the trails in the hills above the attraction to the west and north. You’ll enjoy some great views of the city and then find yourself in a historical time warp. Bring a picnic and have lunch within one of the enclosures if you dare! When you’re finished, hike back to your starting point and perhaps continue on to other sections of Griffith Park.

The Old Zoo, 4730 Crystal Springs Drive, Los Angeles, California.

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