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Guide to the Archives of the City of Seattle

Record Group 8600
Woodland Park Zoo

The Woodland Park Zoo began its existence as a small private animal collection established by Seattle developer Guy C. Phinney (1852-1893) on the northwest corner of his 179-acre Woodland Park Estate. This menagerie included North American animals like deer and black bear, as well as more exotic specimens like African ostriches. After Phinney's death in 1893, the property remained in limbo until the City purchased it from Phinney's widow in 1899 for $100,000, despite a veto by Mayor Thomas D. Humes. It became a part of the municipal parks system and was overseen by the Department of Parks and Recreation. The menagerie grew in 1903, when the animals from a private zoo in Leschi Park were absorbed, providing the foundation from which Woodland Park Zoo would grow.

The zoo developed gradually during its first half-century. New facilities like the Lion House (completed 1919) and the Beaver Pool (completed 1936) were periodically opened and populated with new specimens brought in from around the world. Controversy arose in 1932 when, against fierce public opposition, the city went forward with plans to construct a six-lane highway (now Aurora Avenue) directly through Woodland Park, separating the zoo from the larger lower park area to the east. Historical events affected the zoo's operation, as with slashed budgets and near closure during the Great Depression, and an anti-aircraft gun emplacement in the North Meadow during World War II.

The postwar period featured more rapid expansion as well as a growing incorporation into municipal society. Buoyed by municipal bond issues in 1948 ($800,000) and 1960 ($150,000), the zoo completed a diverse set of new facilities, including an Animal Health Department (completed 1953) and the Great Ape House (completed 1957). A longtime inhabitant of the latter building was a male lowland gorilla named Bobo, who was the zoo's most famous resident from 1953 until his death in 1968. The zoo's profile was raised further in 1954 by the new KCTS children's program "Buttons and his Buddies," which followed zoo animals and staff during its 17-year run on the air. The most consequential development of this time, ultimately, may have been the 1965 founding of the Seattle Zoological Society (later Woodland Park Zoological Society) as a promotional and fund-raising organization auxiliary to the Parks Department.

The zoo received a significant financial boost in 1968, when the Forward Thrust program earmarked $4 million for a program of facility building and improvement at Woodland Park. The City enlisted a team led by architect George Bartholick to construct a long-range design plan. The Bartholick Plan, as it was known, envisioned a zoo of larger and more naturalistic exhibit spaces, but also - and more controversially - a connection to the lower park via a lid over Aurora Avenue. Concerned over the potential effect on existing park space, a citizen coalition called Save Woodland Park led a movement in opposition that resulted in the plan's 1974 defeat by public vote. Mayor Wes Uhlman then empanelled a task force of citizens and experts to formulate a new strategy, which eventually resulted in the Hancocks/Jones & Jones Plan, approved in 1976. Though less ambitious than the Bartholick Plan, the Long-Range Plan still incorporated naturalistic elements in the form of ecology-based "bioclimatic zones" into the design, setting a conceptual benchmark for future development.

Guided by the Long-Range Plan as well as growing public interest in issues of zoological conservation, Woodland Park Zoo subsequently committed to creating facilities that closely resembled the natural habitats of their animals. For example, 1979 saw the opening of the Lowland Gorilla exhibit, one of the first in the world to exchange generic cage space for native flora and landscaping for large primates. Following the exhaustion of Forward Thrust funds in the early 1980s, the zoo entered a period of financial stagnation, partially alleviated by donations and admission fees (first charged in 1977). Public concern in 1984 prompted Mayor Charles Royer to empanel a Zoo Commission of citizens, staff, labor representatives and civic leaders to consider the problem. The report published the following year recommended a new round of county bond issues for needed capital improvements. Passed by voters that November, the bonds generated $31.5 million, along with $10 million in private matching donations, and resulted in facilities like the Asian Elephant Forest exhibit (completed 1989).

New funding concerns prompted the creation of the Zoo Commission II in 1995 to formulate a fresh round of recommendations. In its report, the commission criticized the zoo's managerial organization, which split tasks between the City's Department of Parks and Recreation and the private Woodland Park Zoological Society, as cumbersome and wasteful of money and effort. In response, the City Council voted in 2001 to consolidate zoo administration under the Society. Under the terms of the 20-year contract signed in 2002, the Society was designated to take over full management of the zoo. The City oversees the contract and provides annual public funding. Today the zoo maintains a reputation for excellence among U.S. zoos for exhibits and education programs, and its 1,100 animal specimens attract over a million visitors per year.


8600-01
Miscellaneous Newsletters

1952-2002
0.4 cubic foot

Newsletters and other serial publications produced by the zoo.

SMA
Folder List


8600-02
Brochures

1930-2004
0.4 cubic foot

Brochures, flyers, guides, and event schedules from the zoo. Also includes some zoo postcards, maps, and ephemera.

SMA
Folder List


8600-03
Zoo Bulletin (Newsletter)

1988-2001
0.4 cubic foot

Internal newsletter for zoo staff and volunteers. Issued every two weeks, the Bulletin contained information about staff, events, animal transactions, anecdotes about visitors, and historic photos and news stories about the zoo.

SMA


8600-04
Zoo News (Newsletter)

1979-1999
0.4 cubic foot

Bimonthly newsletter sent to zoo members containing news about zoo animals, construction projects, and programs and events.

SMA


8600-05
Woodland Ramblings (Newsletter)

1983-2004
0.4 cubic foot

This newsletter was originally published by and for docents of the zoo. Around 1992 the publication's name was changed to "Ramblings," and in 2001 it began being targeted toward all zoo volunteers, not just docents. Issues include news about events, programs, and volunteer opportunities, as well as various articles written by volunteers.

SMA


8600-06
Status of Animal Collection

1931-2008
0.6 cubic foot

Yearly inventory of the zoo's animal collection. Early documents were titled "Animal Inventory" and were simple lists. Information about births, deaths, acquisitions, and loans were added to the document around the late 1970s, and the document was retitled "Status of Animal Collection" in the mid-1980s. Only a few inventories exist predating 1980.

SMA
Finding Aid


8600-07
Annual Reports

1976-2004
0.4 cubic foot

Annual reports of the zoo and the zoological society. Reports include information on construction projects, programs and events, and the animal collection. Some include financial and donor information.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid


8600-08
Education Department Publications

1974-2001
0.2 cubic foot

Schedules and program information published by the zoo's education staff outlining classes available for children and adults, as well as resources for classroom teachers and school visits.

SMA
Folder List


8600-09
Docent Manuals

1994-1998
0.2 cubic foot

Reference manuals created for the zoo's volunteer docents with information about animal behavior, species, ecology, bioclimatic zones, and other topics. The series contains two manuals, one printed in 1994, and another smaller version created around 1998.

SMA
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8601-01
Zoo History File

1900-2000
1940-1992 (bulk)
3.6 cubic feet

Correspondence, reports, minutes, brochures, and other historical records collected by zoo staff. Topics covered include specific animals and exhibits, zoo management and personnel, bond issues, and long-range planning. A run of the Director's chronological correspondence is included, as well as daily logs noting things like animal births and deaths, feed purchases, and visitor incidents and accidents. The series also includes some records of the Seattle Zoological Society, including agreements, minutes, and correspondence.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid


8601-02
News Clippings

1914-2005
1940-1994 (bulk)
2.4 cubic feet and 3 volumes

News clippings related to zoo events, facilities, animals, and activities. Most are loose clippings, but there are also three scrapbooks, one containing articles primarily from the early 1940s, one from the late 1960s and one primarily of Director Gus Knudson's career.

SMA


8601-04
Accreditation Records

1974-1998
0.8 cubic foot

Materials relating to the zoo's periodic applications for accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and its predecessor organization, the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA). Records include correspondence, reports by visiting inspection committees, and detailed questionnaires outlining all aspects of zoo functions and management.

SMA
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8601-06
Bond Issue Records

1984-1998
2.0 cubic feet

In November 1985, King County voters approved a $31.5 million bond issue funding completion of the zoo's master plan. Slated improvements would eliminate concrete and cages in favor of more naturalistic animal habitats, as well as animal care facilities and visitor amenities. Planned animal exhibits included Asian and African tropical forests, taiga, and savannah habitats. Records in this series document the bond issue from the campaign through administration, and are organized into three subseries: records relating to the ballot measure, including ordinance language and campaign materials; bond administration records, including budget and planning documents; and records of the Zoo Bond Oversight Committee.

SMA
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Finding Aid


8601-07
American Zoo and Aquarium Association Conference Planning Records

1988-1995
0.2 cubic foot

In 1995, Seattle was host to a joint meeting of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association Conference and the Canadian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums. Records in this series document Woodland Park Zoo staff's efforts in planning the conference, including sponsorships, volunteers, committee work, meeting arrangements, and events such as Zoo Day and a fund-raising auction.

SMA
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8601-08
Woodland Park Zoo Moving Images

1930-1985
5 cubic foot

Film and video depicting Zoo grounds, animals, construction, and related topics. Cataloged separately in Motion Picture Database.

SMA


8610-01
Animal Transaction Records

1965-1998
0.4 cubic foot

Records documenting changes to the zoo's animal collections, including births, deaths, exchanges, loans, purchases, and sales. Transactions are recorded in logs, spreadsheets, and summary reports. One file contains information regarding zoo policies and procedures for animal transactions.

SMA
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Finding Aid


8610-02
Animal Management Records

1983-2001
0.4 cubic foot

Records created by Animal Management staff dealing with animal care and exhibit management. Records include minutes of supervisors' meetings, which detail changes in policies, issues with animal health, and upcoming programs and exhibits. Also included are weekly reports from the manager of the elephant, Asian tropical forest, and orangutan exhibits. Other records include policies and procedures, as well as memos detailing issues related to animal care.

SMA
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Finding Aid


8611-01
Bird Collection Monthly Reports

1979-1983
0.2 cubic foot

Reports submitted each month documenting changes to the bird collection. Information in the reports includes hatchings, deaths, medical procedures, personnel notes, changes to exhibits, and other notable information. Separate reports were submitted for waterfowl, aviary, and pheasantry. Records are arranged chronologically.

SMA
Finding Aid


8620-01
Golden Monkey Exhibit Records

1985-1986
0.4 cubic foot

In 1986, the Woodland Park Zoo had a pair of rare golden monkeys on loan for three months from the Chongqing Zoo. It was only the second time the species was allowed to be loaned outside China, and was promoted as a cultural exchange. The zoo promoted the monkeys' visit heavily, along with a "China Corridor" exhibit highlighting other animals from the area. These records document the negotiations and agreements with China for the loan, as well as the planning for exhibit signage, training, programming, and promotions.

SMA
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8621-01
Special Events Records

1983-1990
0.6 cubic foot

Records of Mike Waller, Manager of Operations and Visitor Services, relating to events and promotions at the zoo. Agendas and minutes of the zoo's special events committee are included, as well as records relating to concerts, lectures, picnics, fund raisers, and exhibit openings.

SMA
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8630-01
Master Plan Records

1969-1977
0.8 cubic foot

In 1968, Forward Thrust bond money was earmarked for a master plan that would outline major changes and building projects at the zoo. The initial plan was created by architect George Bartholick but was voted down by citizens over concerns about changes to the adjacent Woodland Park. The zoo then changed direction, adopting the Hancocks/Jones & Jones plan in 1976, which emphasized bioclimatic zones and naturalistic settings. Records in this series consist mostly of correspondence relating to the Bartholick plan, although there is some material about the later, successful plan. Included is a file of citizen inquiries and concerns, as well as a file for the Citizens Zoo Steering Committee, which helped redirect the planning process toward the eventual adoption of the Jones & Jones plan.

SMA
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8630-02
Water Conservation Records

1988-1996
0.2 cubic foot

Records relating to the zoo's efforts to conserve water for both environmental and financial reasons. Topics covered include wastewater reclamation, pumps and meters, and water usage.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid