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From the Archives: San Diego’s 1957 Children’s Zoo encouraged animal encounters

Sixty-five years ago, after three years of planning and construction, the San Diego Children’s Zoo designed by Charles Faust opened on the site of the old Japanese Tea Garden at the southeast corner of the zoo at a cost of $150,000. Designed for children aged three to eight, the mini-zoo was an immediate success.

The Children’s Zoo encouraged youngsters to feed and pet the animals, but eliminated carnival-style gimmicks that were common in zoos at the time.

Earlier this year, the San Diego Zoo opened the new Wildlife Explorers Basecamp on March 11, 2022 on the site of the old Children’s Zoo. The new exhibit is just over three acres and cost $88 million to build. Major construction began in May 2019, months after the old Children’s Zoo was closed for good.

From The San Diego Union, Monday, July, 1957:

DREAM REALIZED

Dad, Mom, ‘Help’ Kids Open Zoo

By E.G. Martin

A line two blocks long waited at 9:30 a.m. yesterday for the San Diego Childrens Zoo to open its gates on the one and a third acres of knee-high animal exhibits inside.

That set the pattern for the day. The path between the main gates of the zoo past the reptile house to the newest little zoo in America was trod by 6,046 pairs of feet belonging to boys and girls — and their fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles and grandparents.

Dr. Joan Kelly, zooperintendent in charge, surveyed the crowd from her glass wall office atop the refreshment center in the middle of the Children’s Zoo near the end of the first day and said, “everything went well.”

QUAIL EGG LAID

“Those three bears already know how to beg,” said Dr. Kelly. “The quail pair laid an egg, the first for the zoo. Nobody got bitten and the children, as we ad hoped, were fascinated by the exhibit arrangements.”

With the completion of a circular theater seating 200, scheduled next year, the zoo will have cost $200,000. The three years of planning, designing and construction paid off apparently, to judge from the comments of youngsters themselves.

‘MONKEYS-SEALS-PIGS!”

“Say, this is pretty good,” said Robert Radford, 9, of 10445 Grand View Dr., La Mesa. “I like those old seals best. You can feed them that fish.”

His sister, Ronda, 7, summed up her feelings about the zoo with a laconic “okay”—a compliment, however, which ranks near the top of straight-talking youngsters interviewed.

George Saiz Jr., 3 1/2, of 7265 Jamacha Rd., interjected one-word descriptions of the exhibits which interested him most between handfuls of popcorn en route to his mouth: “Monkeys,” he said flatly in answer to the question, “Seals,” he added, “Pigs.”

George’s brother, Michael, 5 1/2, voted for monkeys as the top exhibit. The boys’ sisters, Linda, 10, and Martha, 7 1/2 , voiced opinions on the bears: “They’re good. They’re little ones. What do they eat?” On the farm animals: “Those pigs are little ones. The mother pig lies on her side all the time.”

Dr. Kelly said the farm animals—a mare and colt, a cow and calf, a ewe and twin lambs, a sow and six piglets—were the hit of the first day, ranking with the three bear cubs, the seals and turtles.



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