Reckless Curiosity #5: Justice for animals at the old LA Zoo

If you had decided to take a trip to the Los Angeles Zoo anytime during the first half of the 20th century, odds are your reaction would’ve been less “Lions and tigers and bears oh my!” and more “Diseased lions and tigers. And bears in tiny, dark cages. Oh my.” It turns out that Griffith Park is home to a row of abandoned cages that played a role in the dark tale of an oft forgotten struggle for animal rights in Los Angeles. The tale of the old LA Zoo.

The story begins in 1913, which is when, according to a historical account by Glendale College professor Mike Eberts, the city of LA moved its small collection of animals from Eastlake (now Lincoln) to Griffith Park, hoping to promote, as the Los Angeles Examiner wrote, "healthier and more attractive" zoo animals. And it was all downhill from there.

Only three years later, the zoo had its first health crisis, and was almost shut down for its sewage leaking into the river.

Things only got grosser when, during World War I, the city council decided to stop letting the zoo’s meat-eating animals eat beef.

The staff couldn’t find any buyers for the animals, and obviously couldn’t turn them loose, so they had to resort to feeding them horse meat. This resulted in massive animal casualties, killing many of the carnivores, including most of the cats.

The condition only worsened, until finally, in the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration put unemployed men to work renovating the zoo and building the cages and grottos that can still be seen today.

However, these cages are grossly inhumane by modern standards, and even back then, it became a popular political ploy to bash the zoo.

Belle Benchley of the San Diego Zoological Society is said to have surmised,"Frankly, there is so much wrong with the Los Angeles Zoo—fundamentally wrong, I mean—that it could not become a real zoo, or even a (much) better zoo."

Finally, in 1958, voters decided to pass an $8 million bond issue to build a new zoo. And in 1964, the old zoo was completely abandoned for the new (and thankfully more humane) Greater Los Angeles Zoo.

Today, you can still walk around (and inside of, if you’re crafty) the old cages of the zoo. They’re pretty cool to see, but the real thing to note is the graffiti. There are some great pieces.

Don’t forget to take a look at the hilarious historical plaque, which offers a much lighter version of the zoo’s history, ripe with euphemisms.

Reads the sign: “Although these historic enclosures are no longer appropriate for housing animals, they can be home to memories of family visits to the Griffith Park Zoo, as well as an opportunity to better understand advances in the zoological sciences.”

Exploring supplies:

-Decent shoes -A picnic


Go past the carousel until you find the old LA zoo picnic area. The area is located just after the park ranger headquarters and Shane’s inspiration, below Harding golf course.