The Selig Jungle-Zoo evolved from one of Los Angeles’ first motion picture studios.
In 1909, film pioneer William Nicholas Selig relocated his motion picture company, the Selig Polyscope Film Company, from Chicago to Southern California. He chose a property in Edendale, California, just outside of Los Angeles. By this time, the film pioneer had earned a reputation for making fast-paced action films that featured trained animals. Jungle films soon became his specialty. His small bungalow studio prospered, enabling him to build one of the largest early motion picture studios in Los Angeles. Throughout the expansion, he preserved the tiny bungalow for sentimental reasons.
The new Selig Polyscope studio, constructed on Alessandro Street in Edendale, was nicknamed the Mission Studio. The main bell-tower entrance was modeled after the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel. A second entrance (located on one of the side streets) was modeled after the Mission Santa Barbara. In the center of the studio was a 50′ by 60′ glass ceiling shooting stage. In back was a second, larger shooting stage measuring 60′ by 60.’ The studio grounds also included a pool for shooting water scenes, as well as property, scenery, wardrobe, and carpenter shops, an editing facility, and offices for executives, directors, and writers.
Around 1913, Selig added to his empire by purchasing 22-acres of land across from Los Angeles’ Eastlake Park (now known as Lincoln Park). The soil was swampy in places, so he spent a fortune draining the land before a foundation could be built. He then constructed a second studio and Selig Jungle-Zoo in June of 1915. His expenditures had cost over 1 million dollars.
A roadway called Selig Boulevard, which consisted of the asphalt-paved portion of Mission Road, led up to the zoo’s Mission-style entrance, which featured two large arches and statues of elephants and lions made of Parian marble. Florentine sculptor Carlo Romanelli was the artist responsible for the unique design. Early reports boasted that the zoo entrance alone cost $60,000 to construct.
The new Selig-Zoo/studio facility had its own separate entrance on Selig Boulevard. Producers, directors and writers occupied buildings near a line of eucalyptus trees. Shooting stages, concrete dressing rooms, carpenter and scenery building shops as well as property rooms were located on the Eastern side of the property. The studio also had “runs for jungle scenes, caves for illusions, an exact duplicate of a village in Colon, and the large collection of structures known as Bloom Center, which was a described as a village. It contained a hotel, a Weekly Bugle print shop (with a Gordon press), a grocery store, a drug store, blacksmith shop and livery, a launderer, barber shop, brewery, town hall, opry, and church.
Stables and corrals for horses, ponies, camels, and giraffes were located on the south side of the property.
Although the Selig Jungle-Zoo was open to the public, the adjacent studio wasn’t. The zoo portion was managed by John G. Robinson. It featured all kinds of different terrain to house its exotic animal collection. Sandstone caves were constructed for its wild cat species. Additional cages were made of concrete and iron, where trainers performed shows with its animal stars. The zoo also featured an Alaskan totem pole, that stood approximately 70 feet tall.
Animal trainer Bootsie Hurd, c. 1915.
At the time of its opening, the Selig Jungle-Zoo boasted that it had over 700 animals and birds, including 13 (some reports state 18) Bengal tigers, 40 (some reports claim 32) lions and lionesses, 14 pumas, a jaguar, 20 assorted bears, 15 leopards, five zebra, two black panthers, three Malaysian bears, nine wolf-dogs, a herd of water buffalo, and pens for deer, yak, giraffes, peacocks, and monkeys. It also boasted six elephants, including “Kathlyn” and “Anna May,” a large birdhouse, and a hot house for tropical plants.
Bootsie Hurd (far left) and other performers/trainers at the California Wild Animal Farm. Looks like there should be a sign that reads, “Please don’t feed the people.”
Although zoo visitors were enthralled with the animals, Selig was unable to maintain it. By 1918, his studio had fallen on hard times and Selig was forced to sell his studio. The Zoo changed names several times before it eventually closed during the Great Depression. Although the Zoo is no longer standing, a few of its elephant statues and lion sculptures have survived.
The zoo entrance in 1928.
thanks for this William Selig is my great uncle
He would have turned over his grave if he saw how it looks today. Right across from the zoo is where the train thieves stole all the packages and strewn trash everyone. Now its a homeless camp right at the entrance. If you searched for 3988 Selig Pl, its roughly the spot where the entrance to the zoo used to be. Its a total dump there. There are feces everywhere on the street and the park is littered with hypodermic needles.
Great contribution, thanks so much for this….
I am doing research on Boniface Campbell and his father, James Colin Campbell. I have a document dated July 1919 stating the two were at home at Selig Zoo, Los Angeles, at that time. Colin Campbell, a film producer, was thought to have moved to LA from Chicago with Selig. Would appreciate any copies of primary source references verifying the Campbell’s residence at the Selig Zoo.