Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Monkey Ghosts?

It seems we've stumbled onto a bit of a theme here at The Doing Stuff Blog. And that would be Hidden L.A., the secret places we hear about but seldom see. Or, really, never hear about and then don't believe exist when someone brings them up in conversation. The phenomenon is well documented on the aptly named blog, Hidden Los Angeles. Its delectable tagline: Embrace the deep beneath the shallow.

So last week I found a waterfall. Now it was time to find the Old Zoo, which I'd read about in a magazine article. This brings us to Griffith Park, which isn't hiding from anybody. Covering over 4100 acres of land, it's the largest urban wilderness area in the US. But within all that space and among all of the outdoor activities, there are nooks and crannies that go unnoticed. And in one of those nooks, there's rumored to be the relics of Los Angeles's abandoned zoo.

From 1902 to 1965 it was of course just known as THE zoo, but then it closed down (not for intriguing reasons like an escaped lion eating a family). The new sprawling facility opened in a different area of the park and the old animal enclosures were just left behind. This fact surprises me, as most cities don't leave old zoos sitting around, but hey when you've got 4100 acres to play with I guess it's easy to let things slide.

Devin's parents were visiting this weekend, and were up for anything, so it was time to drag them into this quest as well. I prepared by looking up the Old Zoo on Yelp. If I may take a moment to review the Yelp reviewers regarding this topic... I give them one star. Sure, they were all happy to tell me how awesome it was. How it was a great place to bring a joint and/or a camera. But would anyone offer up some insight on its locale? That's a big fat sarcastic, "Noooooo."

Somewhere in one of their sentence fragments, one yelper mentioned it was near the carousel. That was exactly the area of the park where I'd once gotten Devin and I severely lost while searching for our friend's kid's party by the pony rides. (Now I know the pony rides are immediately obvious from the Los Feliz entrance. You live, you learn.)

As we drove through the park, I directed Devin to the carousel.

"Wasn't that where you got us lost?"

Shoot. I was hoping he wouldn't remember. Meanwhile, I'd unconsciously fooled myself into "remembering" that "come to think of it, I did see a bunch of signs for the old zoo while we were snooping around that area looking for the ponies."

We arrived at the carousel and circled around. Of course there were no signs for the Old Zoo. There were no zoo-like structures. And, owing to the miserable rainy weather, there were no people in sight, so I couldn't even ask for a little guidance. Okay, there was one guy cleaning hamster cages on the trunk of his car in the parking lot, but I didn't want to get involved with him.

Now what? We drove along until, whoops, we drove clear out of the park. No matter. We'd just go around and enter again by the Greek Theater. On our way, we saw signs for the Griffith Observatory, so decided to make a stop.

Nothing much to report here. We saw a show at the planetarium and I played around with the panorama setting on my camera.

Okay well that was fun. But everybody knows where to find the observatory. It isn't hidden L.A. and definitely not a haunted zoo!

[Note: No one ever claimed the zoo was haunted, I just started presuming that at some point during the day.]

So we drove back to the carousel area of the park and set out on foot. We walked up a path that quickly dead ended at a heap of dirt. No zoo. Frantic, I turned to the useless yelpers, referring again to their drivel courtesy of the Yelp mobile app.

I found another clue in the form of one yelper's tip that "It's only marked by one brown sign that's easy to miss."

Where is this sign?
What does it say?

We wandered aimlessly through the picnic area for a few minutes before I spotted, in the distance, a brown sign (gasp!) nestled in some plants. In the next ten minutes, there would be three instances where I'd jump up and down, screaming and waving my arms around like a small child at Disney World.

The first instance occurred when I ran across the grass to have a better look at the sign.


Ahead were three paths. Oh, great. But I had a good feeling about one, and volunteered to run up ahead to spare everyone another dead end. (Really I just wanted to run because I couldn't contain my excitement.)

As I got closer, I saw...


We'd found it. The Old Zoo and all its marvelous ruins.

The third instance of stupid elation came when I noticed a ghost right in my field of vision in a picture Devin's mom snapped.


He took one look at it and dismissed it as a rain drop. This from mister "There's an alien base under the Denver Airport."

Okay, it's rain. Obviously it's rain. But that's not the point.

Wanting him to find this all as creepy as I did, I was pleased when up the hill we found...


The cages out front may have once held birds or... worse... monkeys. Little turn-of-the-century monkeys that, without the benefit of modern day laws to protect them, were outfitted in tiny waistcoats and put on display. Now, they haunt the Old Zoo, fishing around in our pockets for change.

Sadly, the rain was really pouring down by this point and the others were eager to head back to the car. I resisted, until my camera was getting soaked.

Stay tuned for part II, when I make my way back to the Old Zoo for further explorations.


  1. I like how the sign also says old zoo. Who took the time to put up a new sign (once the zoo went from being THE zoo to the OLD zoo), but in a hard-to-spot location?

    Also, I have been dreaming about a purple leather purse for about 2 years now. Where did you get it??

    - Anne

  2. I've been to the old zoo ONCE and I'm 100% certain that I will never be able to find it again. It is pretty rad, though.