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 were inadequate for several of the species, kept on site.
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.
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. The cages, caves, and some other enclosures of the old Griffith Park Zoo were left abandoned in Griffith Park.
The remains hug the hillside of a sunny canyon about two miles down Crystal Springs Road from the current Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Built into the hillside are abandoned animal “habitats” or “grottoes” that look like the cheap sets from a high school production of Camelot.
Following the Old Zoo trail, which zigzags further up the canyon side, I found menacing squat cages and the defaced (sometimes artfully) backside of the grottos, where holes have been cut out of protective fences for explorers to shimmy through.
Further up the shaded trail there was an abandoned building attached to some kind of rudimentary display cage. Across the path from this large enclosure were low to the ground cages that look like medieval jail cells for children.
You may recognize some of the buildings from an episode of Ghost Adventures. They were there to investigate two areas in Griffith Park, the old merry-go-round, where the ghost of a boy is seen, and the old Griffith Park Zoo, where a female spirit is seen. (Season 11 episode 8)
The most well known legend of Griffith Park, and the one most ghost sightings are attributed to, is the curse Dona Petronilla placed on the land in 1863. After learning that her uncle, wealthy land baron Don Antonio Feliz, had not bequeathed the property to her, the seventeen-year-old “shouted out vexatiously that the cattle and fields would become diseased and die; and that no one will ever profit from this land.” As for the land’s new owner, and the man who helped with the acquisition, Peronilla swore, “the one shall die in an untimely death and the other in blood and violence.”
The ghost of Dona Petronilla is the most common, described as a young woman in a white dress, sometimes riding a white horse. At midnight, she is reportedly often seen in the Paco Feliz Adobe, watching from the adobe’s windows on dark and rainy nights. The adobe is the oldest remaining structure in the park, and currently serves as the Crystal Springs Ranger Headquarters.
The new Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens is one of the city’s most popular destinations, drawing nearly two million visitors each year, and for good reason. It is home to more than 1,400 animals representing some 270 species, many rare or endangered. So whatever your favorite – meerkats or mandrills, hippos or kangaroos – chances are you’ll get to see them here. Cool, overcast days offer some of the best viewing opportunities. But even on a hot summer afternoon there’s tons to see and do. The L.A. Zoo is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the year except Christmas Day.
The Los Angeles Zoo spans 113 acres. There’s lots of walking, so comfortable shoes are a must. General admission for adults (13-61) is $21 and admission for a child (2-12) is $16. No ticket needed for children less than 2 years of age. If you’re interested in seeing the big cats I would suggest waiting until after 11 am to see them, as they do not wake them up and let them out until certain times. For $21 this is a great way to spend half your day. Use the other half to explore the Merry go round or the old abandoned LA 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. Southwest 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.
Check out photos of all the animals and the rest of the park: