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Weird California
Weird California - By Joe Parzanese

Jungleland

Map Civic Arts Plaza
2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd, Thousand Oaks, California 91362

Importer Exporter Wild Animals
Importer Exporter Wild Animals

One day I visited the Stagecoach Inn in Newbury Park. The Inn is suspected of being haunted by as many as three different spirits. As I took the guided tour, I arrived in the kitchen and upon peering out the back window saw a large sign hanging on the back of the house at approximately basement level. It said "Wild Animals" with the words "Importer Exporter" above. Curious why such a strange sign was hanging on the back of the historic building, I of course asked our guide. She told me about a piece of history for the area. She told me about Jungleland.

Poster from Jungleland
Poster from Jungleland (thanks to David Shumate)

Jungleland was basically the zoo for Hollywood. It housed many of the animals used in movies between the 1930s and 1960s. As you drove up the coast, past the town of Thousand Oaks, you could literally see elephants and occasionally other animals chained to the side of the road advertising the zoo.

Today the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza resides at the former site of Jungleland. But long ago in 1926, Goebel's Lion Farm opened its doors at the location. Eventually residing on 170 acres, Goebel's Lion Farm was started by Louis Goebel, a former employee at Gay's Lion Farm who left the lion zoo when it moved to El Monte. Goebel began working at Gay's Lion Farm in 1919 and started off as a butcher of animals for the lions' food before moving up to feeder and grounds keeper. After Gay's Lion Farm moved, Geobel began working directly for Universal Studios caring for their animals and lions. Carl Laemmele closed down Universal Studios' animal division in 1926. It housed lions used in a variety of motion pictures. When the division was closed by the studio, Goebel purchased six of the lions, acquired land in Thousand Oaks and opened up Goebel's Lion Farm. In 1927 it was formerly opened to the public.

Louis Goebel and Eugene Ethan Parks
Louis Goebel in suspenders and Eugene (Gene) Ethan Parks (has the X under him). Louis's wife, Kathleen, was his aunt. Circa late 1930's. (thanks to Terry Parks, Gene's daughter-in-law)

In the late forties and mid fifties it exchanged hands several times, becoming World Jungle Compound and under 20th Century Fox, Jungleland. Goebel recovered ownership of it through foreclosure, but entered into an agreement with outside partners to operate it. By the sixties, Jungleland rapidly increased in popularity and had by now acquired a variety of different animals. The movie industry had also discovered Jungleland and several animal actors were housed at the zoo. Leo, the MGM Lion; Jackie, another MGM Lion; Mr. Ed, the talking horse; Bimbo, the elephant from Circus Boy, and Getta, the chimpanzee from the Tarzan films all resided at Jungleland. In addition to supplying these as well as elephants, horses, zebras, and even water buffalo to a variety of different movies, Jungleland also served as the back drop to several movies itself. Scenes from "Birth of a Nation", "Tarzan", and "The Adventures of Robin Hood" were all filmed there.

Additionally, Goebel also leased animals to circus acts, provided an animal exportation and importation service, assisted in supplying animals to other zoos including furnishing many of the animals for the first zoo in Hawaii and even supplied most of the rhesus monkeys that were used in vaccine research for polio.

Feeding time for the Zebras
Feeding time for the Zebras (thanks to Terry Parks)

Famed lion tamer, Mabel Stark came to Thousand Oaks in 1938 and began hosting performances at Jungleland. Mabel Stark was probably the world's first woman tiger and lion trainer. Despite being mauled several times by her large cats (tigers, lions, panthers and others), Mabel Stark performed for nearly sixty years at both circuses and parks. At one time she faced up to 18 big cats in the ring. She passed away in 1968 at the age of 78.

Sadly by the mid sixties, Jungleland and Louis Goebel could not compete with the mega amusement parks that were appearing all over southern California. Ranging from Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, and Universal Studios, business at Jungleland, and Jungleland itself, began to decline until finally it was forced to close its doors in October of 1969. Any of the animals that Goebel did not keep were auctioned off that month to the public. A hippo sold for $450, a llama $195, a macaw $1800, a tortoise $2500, a tiger $750, a lion $600, and an orangutan for over $10,000.

As an aside note, in its last years, Jungleland played host to a birthday party for Jayne Mansfield's six year old son, Zoltan. Zoltan was attacked and mauled by one of the lions that day which of course caused business to slow down afterwards. However, although several people claim this was the straw that broke Jungleland's back, in reality, Jungleland was already struggling financially to stay open as it competed against the much larger and newer amusement parks in Southern California. Zoltan did in fact survive the attack, a survival which was later credited by Mansfield to a ritual performed by Anton LaVey of the Church of Satan.

Jungleland
Photo courtesy of Stan Schutze

Jungleland also left its mark when a black panther escaped in the 1960's. Although neither the panther nor its remains are rumored to have ever been found, the local high school is supposed to have taken its mascot's name from it: The Newbury Park High School "Panthers". Several commentors below have added information to this urban legend. According to several people below, the incident happened in 1963, the panther escaped from its enclosure, but never made it out of the park. It was found within a day or two and sadly shot and killed.

During the seventies and eighties, the now vacant Jungleland was used mostly as an informal skate and hangout spot by the locals. Despite "No Trespassing" signs being clearly posted, the former animal pools were cleaned out and used as skate board pits, outdoor informal concerts called "Jungleland Jamborees" were occasionally organized on the abandoned land, and the entire area became referred to as the "Jungleland Wasteland" by the diverse crowd that hung out on the old zoo grounds.

It could be said that Jungleland helped create Thousand Oaks into the town it is today. Visitors flocked to the zoo from all over, many discovering the area for the first time, and several later deciding to settle down there. Thousand Oaks eventually demolished the old zoo, and in 1994 opened the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. The entire structure is 210,000 square feet not including the garages. It cost the city $63.8 million to build. Additionally it has a $150,000 art sculpture of a copper curtain. Yes 50 feet by 60 feet and made of 2000 strips, the curtain was originally meant to be a fluttering, waving curtain, but the city tied the bottom of the strips down fearing they would be hazardous to nearby motorists on highway 101 if they broke off and blew away on days with high wind. The art project was created by Antoine Predock and it is rumored that the city is considering changing the art sculpture due to public criticism.

Lastly it's also rumored that the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza still has the body of one of the Leo MGM lions buried on its land. Another lion is buried not far down the highway in Calabasas at the LA Pet Cemetery.

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Last Edited: 2011-11-02


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