Woodland Park Zoo Facility and Exhibit Planning Records, 1967-2005

Overview of the Collection

Woodland Park Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo Facility and Exhibit Planning Records
1967-2005 (inclusive)
1.6 cubic feet, (4 boxes)
Collection Number
Records of the development of and the public's response to the zoo's Long-Range plan as well as the planning and development of exhibits and facilities through four decades.
Seattle Municipal Archives
Seattle Municipal Archives
Office of the City Clerk
City of Seattle
PO Box 94728
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 2062337807
Fax: 2063869025
Access Restrictions

Records are open to the public.


Historical NoteReturn to Top

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 Phinneys death in 1893, the property remained in limbo until the City purchased it from Phinneys 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 zoos 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 zoos most famous resident from 1953 until his death in 1968. The zoos profile was raised further in 1954 by the new KCTS childrens 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 plans 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 zoos 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.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

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 Long-Range Master Plan in 1976, which emphasized bioclimatic zones and naturalistic settings. The plan was adapted and evolved as it was implemented. Further bond money in 1985 spurred more development and a refinement of the Long-Range Plan.

Records in this series document the development of and the public's response to both Master Plans as well as the planning and development of exhibits and facilities through four decades, as guided by the final plan. These include maps and diagrams, budget charts, correspondence, memos, contracts, meeting minutes, reports, some news coverage, and publicity materials. Documents concerning both the original Bartholik plan and the Jones & Jones plan are represented.

Many documents record the development of particular exhibits such as the Children's Zoo, Nocturnal House, and the new bioclimactic zones. Non-exhibit zoo features are also represented, such as the old steam engine, parking facilities, concessions, utilities, and the historic carousel. There are also records concerning the placing of the 1985 bond measure on the ballot and the subsequent implementation of the bond monies.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Preferred Citation

[Item and date], Facility and Exhibit Planning Records, Record Series 8630-03. Box [number], Folder [number]. Seattle Municipal Archives.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
1 1 Children's Zoo Development 1967-1972
1 2 1969 Capital Improvement Program 1968
1 3 Zoo Master Plan architect selection 1969
1 4 Elephant House project 1969
1 5 Citizens Advisory Committee for the Seattle Zoo 1969-1971
1 6 G.R. Bartholik Zoo Visits Report 1970
1 7 Sea Otter Exhibit Development 1970-1971
1 8 Opinion Research and Engingeering Studies 1970-1972
1 9 Bartholik Master Plan Development + Environmental Impact Statement 1970-1973
1 10 Nocturnal House Development 1971-1974
1 11 Train Engine 1972
1 12 Parking Facilities 1972
1 13 Forward Thrust publicity materials 1972
1 14 Master Plan overview 1972-1973
1 15 Conservatory/Aurora Lid plans 1972-1973
1 16 Master Plan Funding 1972-1973
1 17 Articles and Correspondence with Benella Caminiti - objections to zoo expansion 1972-1973
1 18 Community Response to Master Plan 1972-1974
1 19 New Citizens Zoo Advisory Committee 1972-1974
1 20 Media coverage of zoo expansion 1973
1 21 Environmental Impact Statement + alternative plan 1974
1 22 Bartholik Master Plan termination 1975
1 23 Nocturnal House development 1975
1 24 Children's Zoo Nursery renovation 1975
1 25 Administration Building renovation 1975
1 26 Jones + Jones design contract 1975
1 27 David Hancocks' Periodic Reports 1976
2 1 Development Bulletins 1975-1976
2 2 Bioclimactic zones 1975-1977
2 3 Forward Thrust financial planning 1975-1981
2 4 General Forward Thrust planning 1975-1984
2 5 Children's Zoo renovation ordinance 1976
2 6 Proposed Comprehensive Plan + response 1976
2 7 Potential changes in collection following F.T. Development 1976-02
2 8 Greenhouses 1976-1977
2 9 Jones + Jones subcontracts 1976-1977
2 10 Landscape Architecture article on zoo 1977
2 11 Local news about zoo funding 1977
2 12 Entry control and fencing 1977-1978
2 13 Public Address system 1977-1978
2 14 Orangutan + Siamang Exhibit 1977-1978
2 15 African Primates Exhibit 1977-1978
2 16 Locomotive 1977-1980
2 17 Kiddie Rides 1977-1981
2 18 Jones + Jones contract + amendments 1977-1981
2 19 African Savannah Exhibit 1977-1984
2 20 Major Utilities 1977-1986
2 21 Commissary Building 1978
2 22 Concessions 1978
2 23 Tropical Forest Complex 1978
2 24 Art installations 1978-1979
2 25 Local news articles about zoo renovations 1978-1979
2 26 Birds 1978-1979
3 1 Small Mammal Grotto 1979
3 2 Holding cages 1979
3 3 Master Plan update 1979-1981
3 4 Graphics 1980
3 5 Cannons 1980-1982
3 6 Rees Thompson Designers contract 1983
3 7 Asian Elephant Exhibit + Save Our Elephants 1983-1989
3 8 Tropical House 1984
3 9 Development Review 1984
3 10 Restroom renovations 1985
3 11 Bond Issue 1985
3 12 Long-Range Plan exhibits costs 1985
3 13 Bond Implementation + Development Budget 1986
3 14 Master Plan walk + talk review 1986-12
3 15 Refined Master Plan 1986-1987
4 1 Utility Planning Program 1990
4 2 Preliminary Design Program - Zoo Gates 1990
4 3 Capital Development Steering Committee minutes 1990
4 4 Indoor Gorilla Facility 1990
4 5 Capital Development Steering Committee minutes 1991
4 6 Sister City Chongqing Zoo + Asian Village 1991
4 7 Press Packet: Northern Trail exhibit 1992
4 8 Capital Development Steering Committee minutes 1992
4 9 Capital Development Steering Committee minutes 1993-1994
4 10 Press Packet: Temperate Forest exhibit 1994
4 11 Primate House proposal 1994
4 12 Zoo Commission II 1995
4 13 Press Packet: Bug World exhibit 1997
4 14 Programming Workshop Report 1997
4 15 Improving Food Concession Services 1997
4 16 Historic Carousel 1999-2006
4 17 Events Space query 2004
4 18 Press Packet: parking garage 2005

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Capital investments--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Parks and Playgrounds
  • Zoos--Washington (State)--Seattle

Personal Names

  • Bartholick, George
  • Hancocks, David

Corporate Names

  • Jones & Jones
  • Seattle (Wash.). Dept. of Parks and Recreation
  • Woodland Park Zoo