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Old Indianapolis Zoo (1964-1987) at George Washington Park

Discussion in 'Zoo History' started by iloveyourzoos, 6 Aug 2022.

  1. iloveyourzoos

    iloveyourzoos Active Member

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    Location:
    San Francisco
    Indianapolis currently has a zoo that opened in 1988 in White River State Park. However, prior to that, from 1964-1987, they had an older zoo (owned by the same Zoological Society) located at George Washington Park, "between 30th and 34th streets east of Keystone".

    This thread is about that old (1964-1987) zoo.

    My interest starts primarily from a place of nostalgia, as I have many (fading) childhood and teenage memories from the 70's and 80's. But I am open to the thread expanding beyond that, to include anything about the old zoo, including the history that led up to it, what happened to the site afterward, etc.

    I'm particularly interested in maps of the old zoo (which I always took home as a kid and would study for weeks, but was too young to realize I should preserve for history!), as well as blueprints and photos of old habitats or guest areas, lists of animals held, etc. I've found a few photos online of Willie the Whale, the windmill entrance, and a few of the fairy tale style buildings, as well as various close ups of animals that ran in the newspapers. But everything I've found seems to be in a more "close up" style rather than an overview or panorama view that would help me recreate the place in my mind.

    I'm sure some of the absence is simply being lost to history, while another part may be intentional to highlight the good of the current zoo and cover over what was perhaps less ideal about the old one. (I remember a circular elephant pit, for example, which I'm sure wouldn't meet any modern standards, and which stands in stark contrast to the great work the current zoo has done in giving these animals more space). I also have a vague memory of a large flamingo pond outside a red barn, which may have included or been adjacent to zebras and ostrich? And also what I vaguely remember as a dark reptile house, and an "aviary row", which would have been a path with bird cages on both sides. (But the mind sometimes plays tricks, so I may be mixing things up).

    At any rate, this thread is a place to post memories, stories, facts, maps, photos, links to books or websites, or just ask questions about the zoo of that era.
     
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  2. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    Thank you for opening this interesting thread. Were you in Indianapolis to witness the opening of the current "new" Indianapolis Zoo and the closure of the old one?

    What species existed at both the old and new zoo? Were some of the animals transferred from the old zoo to the current one, or did the new zoo start completely from ground zero and a new collection? You mention an elephant exhibit and zebras and ostrich, so perhaps those were transferred from the old to new zoo?
     
  3. iloveyourzoos

    iloveyourzoos Active Member

    Joined:
    25 Jul 2022
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    Location:
    San Francisco
    My family did indeed live near Indianapolis at that time, and we visited the zoo once or twice a year, so I probably was there for the last year of the old zoo and the first year of the new one. I certainly remember it being in all the papers and local newscasts of the time. Although, unfortunately, at the time I was definitely more in the mode of a "common guest" rather than a zoochat guest. If I had realized at the time what I was experiencing, I would have taken many more photos, and been much more observant.

    The "Indianapolis Zoological Society" was/is the owner/operator of both zoos, with the old zoo closing to the public on November 1, 1987, and the new one opening to the public on June 11, 1988. My understanding is that while one zoo "closed' and a big promotion was made about the opening of the new one, it might in some ways be thought of as moving the zoo to a new updated location, and had been carefully planned for about a decade (a study had began in 1979, a letter of intent to construct had been signed in 1982, ground was broken in 1985, and construction began in 1986). In 2014, they did a lot around their 50th anniversary, which suggests that, at least in some ways, they think of both zoos as on a trajectory, rather than as two completely separate entities.

    It seems as if most of the animals were indeed moved from one location to the other. (The old and new zoo are "only" 6 or 7 miles away from each other). But my understanding is that they also added some additional animals as well. I have found a few references to them using that time between November 1987 through June 1988 to relocate the animals. One online source I found said that "In late November and early December 1987, the actual move of the zoo’s 500 animals took place", and the zoo's own website said that "One of the biggest challenges was relocating the Zoo's 500 animals, which took weeks to prepare for and execute". But I am not sure if every single animal was moved over, or if there may also have been some that were phased out at that point (probably without a lot of press). Nor am I sure if any moved from on-exhibit to off, or vice versa, as part of the move. But some of the news stories about their 50th anniversary in 2014 said that the zoo "is still home to multiple animals first spotted at the original location".

    Interesting note: One of the challenges I've had in finding information about the old zoo online is that there is also an entirely separate and unrelated "Washington Park Zoo" in Northwest Indiana. So to find information about the old zoo, you have to sort through all the information about the current, newer Indianapolis Zoo, sort through all the things that are about this unrelated zoo from the same state, and also sort through the numerous references to Washington parks elsewhere in the country! LOL!

    I started to create a species list from the various press clippings I've been looking at, and was going to include that here. But I just came across a membership brochure from 1985 which includes an "adopt an animal" page, which looks like it may include every species in the zoo at that time. So I think I'll take a day and type that up nice instead of doing it piecemeal. Stay tuned!
     
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