Did you know… that Jungleland USA was located on the current site of The Thousand Oaks City Hall/Civic Arts Plaza?
Jungleland USA was a private zoo, animal training facility, and animal theme park in Thousand Oaks on the current site of the Thousand Oaks City Hall/Civic Arts Plaza. At its peak the facility encompassed 170 acres.
Louis Goebel purchased the land in 1925 for $50 and created what became Jungleland in 1926 as a support facility for Hollywood. He had been employed at Universal Studios when the studio decided to close its animal facility. He originally opened his new facility as Goebel’s Lion Farm where he trained lions and rented them to movie studios. Five of the Universal Studio lions formed the nucleus of Goebel’s collection. Soon a wide variety of exotic animals were obtained, trained, and rented to the studios for use in films.
Lions and tigers and bears, Oh My!
As travelers passed through town, they wanted to see the animals. Goebel capitalized on this in 1929, renaming the facility Goebel’s Wild Animal Farm, turning it into a theme park with wild animal shows that entertained thousands in the 1940s and 1950s. The 170-acre site housed all sorts of animals including elephants, lions, tigers, hippos, camels, llamas, giraffes, orangutans, chimpanzees, and a variety of others. It also featured elephant rides, tortoise rides, ducky boat rides, train rides, safari tram buses and even a sky tram.
Ladies and gentlemen… introducing the stars of our show
Mabel Stark, the famous first female Tiger and Lion Tamer, was featured in these shows; she also doubled for Mae West in the lion-taming scenes in the 1933 film I’m No Angel. Mabel and her tigers and lions were a main attraction at the park. Her tigers always received huge applause from the audience during the shows held within massive steel cages.
Other zoo residents included Leo the Lion, famous mascot of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios trained by Capt. Frank Phillips; Mister Ed, the talking horse from the television show of the same name; Bimbo the elephant from the Circus Boy television series; and Tamba, the chimpanzee featured in the Tarzan films, Jungle Jim movies and television series, as well as in Bedtime with Bonzo starring Ronald Reagan.
Many other TV and movie productions used the park’s trained animals, and many productions were filmed there including Birth of a Nation, Doctor Dolittle, and The Adventures of Robin Hood.
The end of an era
Goebel sold Jungleland in 1946 and the park was renamed the World Jungle Compound. Ten years later it was sold again to executives from 20th Century Fox and was renamed Jungleland. After five years, the business slid, and Goebel was able to purchase it back in 1961.
But its best days were in the past and Jungleland closed in October 1969 after its popularity continued to drop due to a combination of increased competition (Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, Universal Studios, etc.), the fact that Highway 101 diverted drivers around the theme park, and because the facility “didn’t blend in” with the increasingly urban character of Thousand Oaks. The park had operated for 43 years.
The company which owned the facilities declared bankruptcy. The park’s 1,800 animal occupants and all the movable property was sold at auction. Goebel retained ownership of the land, which was eventually sold to the city of Thousand Oaks to create the City Hall/Civic Arts Plaza and other developments.