Another view of the entrance to the Selig Zoo
(From the Jeff Look collection)
Photos: Selig Zoo and Studio Site in 1997
In 1913, film producer Col. William N. Selig purchased 32 acres of land next to Eastlake Park (now known as Lincoln Park) at a reported cost of $1 million. The property was turned into a zoo for the animals that he used in his films. By 1915, 700 animal species were residing at the Selig Zoo. Even though his studio folded in 1917, he maintained the zoo at least to the mid 1930's.
The Selig Zoo and Studio site was located at 3800 Mission Road. Tennis courts now reside where the wild animals once roamed.
William N. Selig will go down in motion picture history as the pioneer manufacturer of the Pacific Coast. That fact will have interest for those everywhere who are concerned in matters kinematographic. Among the descendants of the present residents of Los Angeles, however, it is possible and probable that Mr. Selig's work in the realm of natural history will be regarded as his more enduring monument. In the creation of the great Selig Zoo out on the Mission Road, opposite picturesque Eastlake Park, the Chicago film manufacturer has done something more than gratify a hobby; he has done something more than bring together the largest collection of wild animals in the world; he has done something more than to plan for contributing to the entertainment and instruction of the present generation. He has builded for the future. Mr. Selig does not say so; but his chiefs believe it, and point to the fact that his structures are of solid concrete, that the ornate entrance, on which alone $60,000 was spent, should withstand the wear and tear of the elements for a thousand years.
No brief story can do adequate justice to the collection of seven hundred animals and birds which Colonel Selig--the Governor, his employees call him--has brought from the four corners of the earth. While it may be true that the motion picture trade is interested in the Selig Zoo only in so far as that big establishment may be related to the production of pictures, it is also true that it is interested in the doings of one of its best known men when those doings have a public side--and the Selig Zoo has a public side; it is providing facilities for first-hand study of natural history, one of the most interesting factors in the curriculum, and it is also aiding in the preservation from extinction of many of the rarer beasts and fowl.
The thirty-two acre park comprising the Selig Zoo has been under its present management for three years. Picturegoers of a few years ago will recall "Captain Kate" and "Lost in the Jungle", those thrilling pictures in which Kathlyn Williams and Thomas Santschi were featured and which served to introduce a new brand of courage to followers of the screen. These subjects were made in Florida, at Jacksonville, and the animals used in them were the property of "Big Otto", a showman. The success of the pictures was so marked that Mr. Selig bought the beasts and had them forwarded to Los Angeles, where they served as the nucleus of the present extensive collection. The initial investment was a quarter of a million dollars. An equal amount has been expended since.
Mr. Selig has been in Los Angeles for many weeks giving his personal attention to the completion of arrangements for the official opening of the park, which will be celebrated on the arrival of the Selig Special from Chicago by way of San Francisco and following the exhibitors' convention in the latter city. All the time the film side has never for a moment been obscured. Every morning has found him in the projection room of the Edendale studio going over the work of his nine directors. In the afternoons he has been at the Zoo, his time divided between Thomas A. Persons, general manager of coast studios, and John G. Robinson, superintendent of the Zoo.
The entrance to the Zoo, opposite Eastlake Park, is a thing of beauty. The design was executed by Romanelli, an Italian sculptor; the figures of the animals on the pedestal between the gates were modeled from beasts within the grounds. Work on the buildings was begun a year ago. An immense amount of preliminary labor was necessary; the soil was swampy, and much drainage was required to prepare the foundations for structures of concrete and steel.
Matching the entrance in striking and imposing appearance is the home of the lions and tigers. It is mission style, the great patio in well kept lawn. The home of the elephants, some distance away, is in the same style of architecture. So, too, is the large amusement pavilion. There are many buildings on the grounds, among them the costume rooms, special storage structures, monkey pavilion, animal cages, bear houses, and the many buildings devoted to the sheltering of birds large and small. The offices, near the business entrance, which is at a distance of several hundred feet north on Selig Boulevard, as the finely asphalted portion of Mission Road passing the property is known, are in rustic style. Here on the border of a great grove of eucalyptus trees are the quarters of the official and directors and scenario writers. Over on the eastern side of the park are the stages where five directors are working--Tom Santschi, George Nicholls, Lloyd Carlton, Marshall Neilan and Mr. Chaudet. There are 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, the site where are being photographed the rustic comedies produced by Marshall Neilan.
Bloom Center is a village. One may stand in front of the hotel and look down two streets, or should we say roads? There are the Weekly Bugle print shop and the grocery. The print shop is equipped with the orthodox Gordon press and old style cases filled with type. There are a drug store, with regularly labelled bottles and jars; blacksmith's shop, laundry, livery, barber's shop, brewery, and, to complete the picture, a town hall with its op'ry house and a church. Two primitive lampposts add to the atmosphere.
Near the stages is a large concrete dressing room. In the rear of the stages are the extensive carpenter shops, property rooms and quarters for the scenic artists. In the garage are numbered stalls, each employee--official, director, actor or other--owning a machine having his or her individual storage place. Along the southern side are the corrals for the animals other than those in the category of the wild sort. There are stables for the ponies and the many horses, including Sultan, the "high school" animal famous for his "scholarship". Here, too, are quartered the fourteen camels and three dromedaries and the two giraffes. Prince Chan, orang-outang, resides in an electrically heated home. Five of his species are on the way to join him. Toward the entrance are the aviaries where are quartered all manner of fowl and birds from all countries.
Superintendent Robinson showed the World man over the grounds under his supervision and pointed out some of the more notable inmates of this remarkable animal and bird world. He put his hands through the bars and stroked the sleek sides of the lions and the tigers, a mark of friendly recognition which it is said Mr. Selig shares with him. In the main house are one hundred carnivorous or meat-eating animals. There are thirty-two lions and lionesses. Of Bengal tigers there are eighteen, the largest collection of similar beasts in the world, and as authority for this statement Superintendent Robinson quotes the younger Hagenbeck. Among fourteen leopards there is one of the black variety, very rare, and certainly of untamed aspect. There are also two clouded leopards, probably the only pair in the country. There are fourteen panthers, also known as pumas and mountain lions.
Of the herbivora there are seven bears of different species and five Asiatic elephants, including a mother with a nursing baby. The pair of giraffes are now fourteen feet in height, having grown six feet in the last year. They are three years old. There are but nine other giraffes in the country. There are six elk, ten sacred cows of India, including three calves born on the grounds; one zebra, three water or Philippine buffalo, one yak--have we heard somewhere of a Doc Yak?--and four kangaroo. There are ten deer, seven llama, and a pair of Russian wild boars. The hay-eating animals total seventy-seven. In the dog kennels are fourteen German boarhounds, which in their native country are used as police dogs. There are four Eskimo dogs, tow St. Bernards, three wolves and an Alaskan husky, a wolf-dog. Of squirrels there are many varieties.
On the collection of representatives of the bird family quartered in the Selig Zoo a book might be written. For instance, of cranes there are a pair each of Kaffir crowned, companion, demoselle, Manchurian and Stanley. There are three golden eagles and one of the bald variety. There are many parrots, cockatoos and macaws. Of pheasants there is probably the largest collection in the United States. There are six Impeyan, imported from the Himalayan Mountains. There are four peacock, six Amherst, seven silver, six golden, eleven English, two white, two copper, five Reeves, two Kerfield and twelve versicolor. There are seventy-eight young pheasants of different species. The young pheasants are raised by Japanese silky hens; several of these are used for this sole purpose. In the duck preserve are fifty mallards, eight mandarin, fourteen teal, eight widgeon, two sponbills and two muscoveys. There are wild geese from Canada and Australia. Of monkeys there are fifty.
Colonel Selig is reticent as to his future plans for picturemaking, other than as those plans may be revealed in his formal announcements. There is no question, however, that he contemplates big things. There is an evidence of this in the enormous stage he will erect on the zoo grounds, for the making of V-L-S-E features of [sic] well as subjects for his regular releases. With five directors working at the Zoo, three at Edendale, and with Tom Mix at Las Vegas, N.M., where it is expected he will go, independent of the facilities at the big Chicago home plant, it is extremely plain that the Selig Polyscope Company is an organization most splendidly equipped for picture-making.
"The Lad and The Lion" (Selig Polyscope Co. 1917) Directed by: Alfred E. Green. Cast: Will Machin, Vivian Reed, Frank Clark, Al W. Filson, Cecil Holland, Charles LeMoyne, Lafe McKee, Gertrude Oakman, Captain Richard.
"Tarzan of the Apes"(National Films Corp. 1918) Directed by: Scott Sidney. Cast: Elmo Lincoln, Enid Markey, True Boardman, Kathleen Kirkham, George B. French, Gordon Griffith.
"The New Adventures of Tarzan"(Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises 1935) Directed by: Edward A. Kull and Wilber McGaugh. Cast: Herman Brix, Ula Holt, Ashton Dearholt, Frank Baker, Harry Ernest, Dale Walsh, Jackie Gentry.