LA’s First Movie Studio was a Zoo
If you’ve ever been curious as to where the lion in the MGM pictures logo came from, or just where that jungle was where early Tarzan romped with the wild, the answer is the same. The second Los Angeles Zoo, which also happened to be the first movie studio in Los Angeles.
In 1909 film pioneer William Selig located his motion picture company in Edendale Caifornia. His specialty was jungle films and the prosperous studio soon expand to a 22 acre lot across from what is now Lincoln Park. The additional studio aka the Selig Jungle Zoo was completed in 1915.
The entrance to the public zoo featured large arches with marble statues of elephants and lions. The filming studio had a separate entrance.
On opening day, the Selig Jungle Zoo had over 700 birds and animals. This included 13 Bengal tigers, 40 lions and lionesses, 14 pumas, a jaguar, 20 bears, 15 leopards, 5 zebras, 2 black panthers, 6 elephants and more. The zoo was a fantastic success. It reportedly had over 150,000 paying visitors in the first year of operation. To put that in perspective, Los Angeles only had 500,000 residents at that time.
While Selig’s studios at the Selig Jungle Zoo pumped out a fantastic number of films including an early version of the Wizard of Oz, World War I harmed the international sales of movies. By 1918, Selig was insolvent.
However rentals by other production companies kept the studio at the zoo going for many years. The first Tarzan movie was filmed at the zoo in 1918. In 1920 Louis B. Mayer rented his first studio space for Mayer Pictures at the site. Mayer kept the studio alive for many years before moving to Cluver City to run Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Jackie, one of Selig’s lions, became the first roaring MGM mascot.
Selig finally sold the zoo after a flood during the great depression. The Selig Zoo and studio was located at 3800 Mission Road.
More photos after the break…
Photo Credits: Entrance to Selig Zoo, Los Angeles Times Archives in public domain. Other Photos USC Library, public domain.