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Arts and Entertainment

Photos: Angelenos Used To Hang Out With Wild Zoo Animals Like It Was NBD

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Back in the early 20th century, instead of observing wild animals from a safe distance behind sturdy iron gates, Angelenos could get close—way too close—to the four-legged creatures in a zoo started up by a Midwesterner who came out for the film industry.

William Selig, who hailed from Chicago, launched Los Angeles' first-ever film studio, Selig Polyscope Co., and would later open a menagerie in the early 1910s in the area that is now called Lincoln Heights.

"One of the reasons he came out here was for the western, but another reason was jungle pictures," academy programmer Randy Haberkamp told the L.A. Times in a 2009 interview. "He had monkeys and tigers and lions."

Since Selig had so many animals, he bought land down the street at 3800 N. Mission Road to house them as well as open another studio that would later produce films like Thor and Lord of the Jungles. In 1915, he opened the Selig Zoo to the public. The entrance to the zoo was covered with an ornate gate, with towering stone statues of lions and elephants designed by Italian sculptor Carlo Romanelli.

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Selig's film studio shuttered in 1918, but he kept the zoo until the mid-1930s. Over the years, the ownership of the zoo changed hands and would be later called Luna Park Zoo, the L.A. Wild Animal Farms, the California Zoological Gardens, and Zoopark. (All the vintage photos from this set, which come from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection, were taken at Luna Park Zoo.)

History blog Lincoln Heights L.A. has a vintage brochure for Luna Park Zoo on its website. There were six wild animal acts a day, and a regular feeding time at the zoo that everyone could watch. Olga Celeste, an actress who was known for her leopard vaudeville acts, performed with a group of Indian leopards daily at the Luna Park Zoo. Visitors could get the chance to snap a photo with Celeste and her animals. Admission then cost 30 cents for adults and 10 cents for children.

When the space was no longer a zoo in the 1950s, the animals were taken to the Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park. The zoo would become the Lincoln Amusement Park and Lincoln Speedway. The statues at the front gate were put into storage; however, they were rediscovered in 2000, and nine years later, were placed in front of the Los Angeles Zoo.

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