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Woodland Park History

Chapter 4 - Long Awaited Change
(1947-1959)

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In 1947, Zoo director Gus Knudson, DVM, retired after forty years at the zoo. He was often frustrated by the mistreatment of the animals by visitors, as well as the lack of support for the zoo by the City. He had been a conspicuous and familiar figure in local papers over the decades. He had the opportunity, on his retirement, of having his say about the state of the zoo. His farewell remarks were front page news. Knudson vented his considerable accumulation of frustration, blasting the Park Board for micromanagement and the City of Seattle for their lack of financial support. Dr. Knudson passed away in 1951.

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Johnson and Knudson,sometime in the 1940s.

The Aviary. Seal/Sea lion pool and Swan/Pelican pool completed. The "new" pony ring.

He was succeeded by the very capable Edward J. Johnson. Johnson had been at the zoo since 1926, and not only rose to become the zoo's director, but later became the superintendent of Parks and then the director of Seattle Center. It may have been a combination of Knudson's remarks, Johnson's political skill, and the booming post-war economy, but for whatever reasons the zoo entered an unprecedented era of building.

The zoo that existed at the time of Knudson's retirement had changed little in thirty years. The zoo that Johnson left when he became Parks Superintendent in 1960 was phenomenally improved.

To begin with, he went on a grand tour of the country's better zoos, to take a look at their exhibits and get ideas. In just ten years, a new complex of bear grottos, a modern Feline House, Aviary, Ape House, Seal pool, Administration building, Pony Barn, Flamingo Exhibit, and Giraffe/Kangaroo House were built. It is possible that without this timely burst of construction activity, Woodland Park Zoo might have gone the way of other zoos which were neglected for too long and were finally deemed not worth saving.

1947: The annual report says "1 million plus visitors" though that figure should be taken with a large grain of salt. The zoo was not even fenced, let alone gated, and therefore attendance estimates were very rough.

Deaths: Bactrian Camel (probably Nile, see 1922)

Animal acquisitions were funded for the first time. Previously, acquisitions were only by donations or trades.

A new Aviary building was under construction, project cost $150,000. Demolished in 1990, it was located on the current site of (the western half of) the Rain Forest Food Pavilion.

Dr. Gus "Doc" Knudson, D.V.M., retired at age 67.

Edward J. Johnson, zoo employee since 1926, was appointed director on 1 Sept.

Seal Pool (now the penguin exhibit) completed.

1948: A new Pony Barn and pony ring were constructed. These are the barn and ring still at the zoo in 1999.

First administration building was constructed (in the 1970s it was remodeled and enlarged, and became the ARC building, near 55th and Phinney).

The old zoo barn near the west entrance was removed.

The Aviary was completed on December 5.

A bond issue was passed, and $800,000 was allotted for zoo improvements.

Plans for new bear grottos opened for bids. The bid of $242,853 was the largest item on the zoo improvement list. Today, this complex, updated and with more natural-appearing exhibits, still serves as home for gorillas and tropical bears.

The zoo's first zebras were exhibited.

Work began on a west entrance at Phinney Ave., in preparation for fencing the zoo for the first time.

A Childrens' Zoo was proposed by Ed Johnson.

A 1948 map shows a miniature train in place north of the Parks shops, the location it would occupy until its removal in 1980. It ran on 2,179 feet (.4 mi.) of track, across the current sites of the Elephant Forest and Trail of Vines. It was christened "Buffalo Barn and Southern" by Doug Welch.

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Administration building.

Interior Feline House. South end, Feline House exterior. Bear Grottos.

1949: Ocelot acquired from John Beck carnival in exchange for boarding fees.

1950: Started renovation of Primate House -- improving heating and air conditioning.

"Kiddyland" opened with 5 rides on the site of the old tennis courts (now the south parking lot). It had the original Ferris wheel and carousel with a new boat ride, auto ride, and streamliner train. Almost immediately, the area proved to be too small to deal with demand.

Frederick & Nelson donated a pair of jaguars.

Construction started on Feline House and bear grottos.

Fencing of the zoo started.

Seattle population 467,591

1951: Feline House (planned by Ed Johnson) opened. It was the first of its kind in the country with glass-fronted cages instead of bars. Animals could be moved from cage to cage by just one person using a unique trolley type cage (still in place and in use, 1999).

The Primate House renovation was completed.

Dr. Knudson passed away.

A guide/speaker program for children was inaugurated by Rev. Henry Post (died November 1951). It was not an official program but led to the establishment of one the following year.

The bear grottos were completed, considered "state of the art" at the time and attracted the attention of Marlin Perkins and his "Zoo Parade" show.

Zoo fencing completed.

1952: New restroom/concession stand opened near site of old bear cages, closed in 1990s. Giraffe/Kangaroo house (now called Australasia) funded by the City. Unfortunately, two giraffes captured in Africa and paid for by S. L. Savidge (a Seattle Chrysler dealer) were not allowed into the U.S. by the Dept. of Agriculture.

Position of Guide-Naturalist (an education staff person) as a formal program was approved. First to hold the title was Jack Alexander.

1,217 specimens, 313 species.

Woodland Park Zoo received animals from the Everett Zoo, which closed.

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Giraffe House, later Australasia building, under construction.

Map of the zoo, 1953. Great Northern locomotive. A page from the 1956 guidebook "Who's Who at the Zoo."

1953: The zoo's first Animal Health Department completed, with X-Ray, minor surgery, necropsy room. Now referred to as Old Animal Health

Bobo was purchased for $5500 -- the zoo's first gorilla and probably most-celebrated ever animal.

Tigers Tongou and Sultana were brought to the Zoo. They produced a total of 54 offspring at WPZ.

Great Northern Engine #1246 was installed near what is now the entrance to the Elephant Forest, just south of the Feline House along the main circulation path.

Because of parents' complaints (too crowded, lines too long, kids refuse to go on into the zoo) Kiddyland was relocated to the area just south of what is now the Thai Elephant Forest, then inside the trackage of the BB&S railway. Kiddyland was renamed Woodland Rides to appeal to teenagers. The rides were increased in number and quality. The move took place in 1953-54.

The former site of Kiddyland was converted into a 256 space parking area. Two new lots were also created along Phinney Ave.

Lion Samson acquired.

1954: A part-time veterinarian worked at zoo (a staffer for King Co. Health Dept.)

Reserpine was first used to immobilize animals for treatment

Experimental work with parasite drug Caracide was provided free by drug manufacturer.

In December, the KCTS show Buttons and His Buddies began, featuring zoo animals and a zoo staffer, first Jack Alexander, and later Frank Vincenzi, who had trained Buttons, a gibbon.

Giraffe Duke donated by S.L.Savidge.

1955: Acquired sea otter Susie. She was the first of her kind in a U.S. zoo.

Giraffe Duchess I was donated by S.L.Savidge.

1,571 specimens, 333 species.

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Ape House.

Miniature Train. Flamingo Yard. Elephant Yard.

1956: Elephant rides were inaugurated with Morgan Berry-owned elephants in the wading pool where the savanna is now located.

Construction was begun on a Great Ape House.

Tiger Sultana had a litter of five.

1.5 million to 2 million visitors (est.)

Who's Who at the Zoo was published. Author Gordon Newell (Parks Dept. Public Relations officer), illustrated by Don Sherwood.

"Elmer" the Safety Elephant (Cross Streets Safely) purchased with children's donations. The fund-raising drive was promoted by KING-TV. Elmer was a female African elephant, approximately 2 years old.

Gorilla "Fifi" was acquired by zoo in early December. She was to be Bobo's bride.

1957: Great Ape House was completed. All glass fronts, as in the Feline House. Twenty years later, the glass was salvaged and used in the viewing windows of the new gorilla exhibit.

Sultana had a litter of five.

A second sea otter was acquired.

Channel 4 (KOMO) and 5 (KING) had zoo guest appearances during the year. Buttons and his Buddies continued on KCTS.

Acquired "hero pigeons" Geronimo and Eureka from the Army Signal Corps, Ft. Monmouth, NJ. These were among the last of the noted Army carrier pigeons. Keeper Bill Cowell (died 1998), who worked at the zoo from about 1946 until the late 1980s, was discharged from the Homing Pigeon section of the Army Signal Corps immediately prior to coming to work at the zoo.

A pair of young orangutans was acquired: Elvis (I) and Sandra.

Tibetan camels Tib and Bet were acquired.

Lion Mach II had a litter of four.1958: Flamingo exhibit featuring constructed. Site now occupied by east patio of Rain Forest Food Pavilion.

Sultana gave birth to a litter of four. Tiger cubs were going for $1,000 apiece then, real money in the Fifties.

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Flamingo Yard. Sultana's cubs, actual year unknown.

1959: Sultana had a litter of five.

Zoo annual budget $211,420

Elephant moat constructed, sloping the yard down to a five-foot high wall.

Polar bear cub born.

Giraffe Duchess (I) died of an accidental injury (broken leg), 1 Aug.

If you have comments or suggestions about this page please send an e-mail to Dana Payne


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