Weird California
Weird California
Weird California - By Joe Parzanese

Old LA Zoo

Map Fire Road, Los Angeles, California 90027

The former LA Zoo in Griffith Park still sits long abandoned decades ago.
The former LA Zoo in Griffith Park still sits long abandoned decades ago.

Old LA Zoo
Old LA Zoo

Back in November 1966, thousands of animals were relocated a few miles north from the Griffith Park Zoo to the new Los Angeles Zoo that still remains open to this day. The cages, caves, and some other enclosures of the old Griffith Park Zoo were left sitting in Griffith Park, some with picnic tables added into their enclosures, and are still there to this day for park explorers to find. Several of the cave enclosures have had their bars removed, but there are still a variety of caves, cages and other enclosures for people to explore.

The Griffith Park Zoo was originally opened in 1912, amusingly built on the former location of Griffith J. Griffith's old ostrich farm. It was opened with 15 animals, and due to lack of funding, it opened without any cages, simply stockades to keep the animals in, which was inadequate for several of the species kept on site.

Old LA Zoo
Old LA Zoo
Old LA Zoo
Old LA Zoo
Old LA Zoo
Old LA Zoo

Stories claim that the history of the zoo was rocky, and it was always struggling. For example, in 1916, the zoo was apparently leaking sewage into the L.A. River, and later during World War I, a meat shortage made it hard to properly care for the animals, forcing the zoo to substitute horse meat for beef, leading to the deaths of many of the meat eating animals, particularly the big cats. Luckily the zoo was free which kept visitors coming.

In the mid 1920s, with the failure of the Selig Zoo, William Nicholas Selig donated several of his animals to the Griffith Park Zoo. Selig had owned Selig Polyscope, which post closure of the film studio, led the movie producer to take all the animals he had gathered for his films and try his hand at opening up a zoo in East Los Angeles. A zoo he had plans to mix with a large amusement park. Selig had grandiose plans involving a large zoo, rides, restaurants, a hotel, and even a giant swimming pool complete with a beach and wave making machine. None of his plans ever saw fruition however, and although the Selig Zoo was occasionally rented out to film a few movies, such as the 1918 Tarzan, the zoo ultimately failed, leading Selig to donate the animals to the Griffith Park Zoo.

Cages at the Old LA Zoo
Cages at the Old LA Zoo
Cages at the Old LA Zoo
Cages at the Old LA Zoo
Cages at the Old LA Zoo
Cages at the Old LA Zoo
Cages at the Old LA Zoo
Cages at the Old LA Zoo

By May 1958, people had had enough of the Griffith Park Zoo and its condition, leading voters to vote for the establishment of a brand new zoo. An $8 million dollar bond was approved for construction, and by November 1966 the new Los Angeles Zoo opened a few miles north of the Griffith Park Zoo. All the animals were relocated there, thus ending the career of the Griffith Park Zoo.

Over the storied history of the Griffith Park Zoo, there were a few famous or more appropriately infamous animals kept there. For awhile a vaudeville actor boarded his pet baby elephant at the zoo when he went out of town, paying the zoo fifty cents a day. Then there was Old Topsy, a camel rumored to have once been part of the original U.S. Camel Corps that Jefferson Davis had brought over from Middle East and put into action back in the mid 1800s (although some stories claim Old Topsy might have just been a descendant of one of those camels). Old Topsy after finishing up his career in the U.S. military, ended up hauling ore (some say salt) in Arizona and later Nevada, before becoming an attraction in Ringling Brothers Circus. While spending time at the circus, Old Topsy was sadly involved in a train wreck that ended up crushing both of his humps. He later went on to work at Fox Studios and finally retired at the Griffith Park Zoo, ultimately passing away in April 1934. Keep in mind that if Topsy was one of the original camels that came over from the Middle East, then he would have been almost eighty! Rumor has it that Topsy's ashes are buried with Hi Jolly, one of the original camel drivers also brought over from the Middle East, in his pyramid in Arizona.

More cages in Griffith Park
More cages in Griffith Park
Old LA Zoo
Old LA Zoo
Old LA Zoo
Old LA Zoo
Graffiti covered cage
Graffiti covered cage

Whereas Old Topsy lived an interesting and well traveled life. Another infamous resident of the Griffith Park Zoo was the nine hundred pound polar bear known as Ivan the Terrible. So horrible was Ivan that he ended up killing three other polar bears, including his mate Lena, during his time at the zoo.

To get to the zoo, take Interstate 5 to Crystal Springs Drive to Griffith Park Drive. I was able to park in the Spring Canyon area, off to the left, right before Griffith Park Drive began to head north. South west of this small parking area is a large picnic area and beyond that the Old LA Zoo. Former cave enclosures should be in front of you. Up above them are more cages, former buildings, and other enclosures and zoo facilities. Further down to the right from the cave enclosures, the path will take you past several actual cages, some of which are open.

The "San Diego Zoo" that appears in the movie Anchorman had several of its scenes filmed here.

Abandoned building from the Old LA Zoo
Abandoned building from the Old LA Zoo
Abandoned building from the Old LA Zoo
Abandoned building from the Old LA Zoo
Abandoned building from the Old LA Zoo
Abandoned building from the Old LA Zoo
Abandoned building from the Old LA Zoo
Abandoned building from the Old LA Zoo


Last Edited: 2016-05-16


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