How the Monkeys from Ocean Beach Started the San Diego Zoo

by on June 6, 2014 · 8 comments

in Culture, History, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Wonderland OceanBeach-Entranceby Lois Lane

monkeyTHEN: The Balboa Park Panama Exposition of 1915 celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal. Our own OB Col. Charlie Collier (sometimes called the founder of Ocean Beach) served as the mastermind for the original Exposition, when City Park was renamed Balboa Park.

To read more about David Charles Collier, look him up on Wikipedia, where you will see a link back to the OB Rag’s Part Four in Quest for OB’s True Birthday and Founder.

Serving at his own expense, Col Collier discovered his money had run out and resigned as President before the event took place.

NOW: The designated Balboa Park Centennial Inc. was given $2.8 MILLION by the city for the 2015 Centennial. The committee spent all the money on salaries for themselves, salaries for their friends, and a trip to Panama. What to do?

The City of San Diego has a NEW plan. This one will focus on the communities. What this means, if we have it straight, is that we will have a lot of community volunteer entertainment instead of the big-band names and high-powered Art Exhibits. It’s still in the planning stages. And best of all, it doesn’t cost anything.

In Ocean Beach before the Panama exposition, Wonderland in Ocean Beach was the model for the exposition and a primary tourist attraction. They even ran a warm-up Exposition the year before. But when the exposition took center stage, Wonderland lost market share, and a storm did more damage than could be repaired.

In 1915, the Exposition kicked off on New Year’s Day.

Coming up, with have a slightly different schedule, our Centennial starts with Decembers Nights, Dec. 5, 2014. It ends with December Nights, 2015.

There will be four signature events: two December nights, and two additional events in the spring and in the summer to celebrate San Diego. Additional focus will be on local strengths such as craft beer, biotech industries, and specialty foods. Some people think it doesn’t look too different from what goes on in the park anyhow, except for flags and banners with Centennial printed on them.

But this new plan for the celebration does calls for reaching out to the neighborhoods. I don’t think this means giving each of 28 local groups $100,000, (as the original $2.8 million could have been spent). Starting now, it all has to be ready in 6 months. We now have MORE planning committees – the City of San Diego, the almost defunct Balboa Park Centennial Inc., The Balboa Park Conservancy, the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, and the Balboa Park Committee – presumably all busy making plans.

Which brings us back to monkeys and the zoo. One of the most important things that happened as a result of Wonderland going out of business was that the monkey exhibit was defunct. Our Ocean Beach monkeys were homeless. The planners, Col. Collier and Harry Wegeforth stepped forward, and our very own monkeys were the start of the world-famous San Diego Zoo. And their keeper, Belle Benchley, became the Zoo Director.

Or did it really work that way? Perhaps the monkeys planned it themselves. Something actually did happen. The monkeys moved to Balboa Park and somebody took care of them. What COULD happen this time? What should happen? If the monkeys could make it work, can the committees make it work?


{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Don Johnson June 7, 2014 at 8:17 am

I always suspected OB was the root of everything good and wonderful with San Diego. Of course seems like there will always be monkeys wandering around the city no matter how many get scooped up by the zoo. Nice article!


Kevin Swanson June 7, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Welcome to San Diego 2015, where we will “Celebrate a Century of Creativity + Build Toward a Millennium of Sustainability” through showcasing what has been accomplished in the Region and the World since that pivotal 1915 time.
2015 begins at Midnight on December 31, 2014 as we kickoff a memorable “Balboa Park 2015: Explore the Past + Create the Future”™ – Do you have Your Explorer Pass yet?
Are you ready to wander “Streets of Dreams” between “Plazas of Inspiration, Imagination, Innovation, and Opportunity?”
Are you ready to come to “The Butterfly Ball” in The World Famous San Diego Zoo’s transformed pARKing area?
Come and watch Balboa pARK emerge from its chrysalis as it becomes a modern day “Noah’s Ark.”
Get ready, as San Diego 2015 “Begins With A Roar™” with The 1915 San Diego Exposition Road Race Centennial on January 10, 2015 – NOT in Balboa pARK (guess where?!)
Ready to come into Your Neighborhood Creativity Center?
Ready to visit The San Diego 2015 Sustainable Building Showcase, where you can see and touch techniques and materials and designs for the next 1000 years?
This is YOUR San Diego Region! Better get ready to Show It Off to the World!


Lois Lane June 8, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Kevin, I love the idea of the Butterfly Ball and the Road Race Centennial! But what do the committees think?


Kevin Swanson June 9, 2014 at 4:29 am

At this point which Committees are you talking about? The Balboa Park Committee as the Planning Group (Advisory)? The City Council’s Committee on the Environment? The defunct “Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. Committee” that spent $3M in public funding?
The Committee that should have the loudest voice is the People of the City who own Balboa pARK.
I am forming a nonprofit whose Mission will be to Enhance the San Diego Region for Residents and Visitors. Everything that I propose for implementation in Balboa pARK should fit within the National Historic District guidelines where required.
Balboa pARK is only 1 sub project of San Diego 2015 – and I am going to raise funds for All of them – plus more.
Volunteers from around the World will be able to contribute funds and time to help make the Dreams become Reality if they want to be a part of creating Solutions.
We can do amazing things together if people are able to understand the goals and follow directions????.


Susan Peinado June 10, 2014 at 10:52 am

Lois, love your humor! I want more from you, please!


South Park June 11, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Thought-provoking and droll article.

“What COULD happen this time? What should happen?”

In the early days of San Diego, unlike today, the local Chamber of Commerce, instead of spouting political opinions, initiated and supported civic projects. They formed a City Park Improvement Committee in ~1900, to which the City gave $11,000 [the 2013 labor value of this amount is ~$1,360,000.00 (unskilled wage) or $2,210,000.00 (professional)]. Committee member George Marston donated another $10,000 for building roads in the park, enabling the hiring of surveyors, architects, and landscape designers. Well-designed plans resulted and were implemented in 1400 acres of nine original Pueblo Lots that had been set aside for the people of San Diego; in November of 1910, the Committee and the City Council voted to change the park’s name to Balboa Park, in recognition of the City’s maritime history and establishing a link to the maritime trade importance of the anticipated completion of the Panama Canal. The planning for the Panama-California Exposition began. In 1910 and 1913, San Diegans voted for (7:1 and 16:1) park improvement bonds for the exposition, to the tune of $1 mill and $850K. That would never have happened this time, even if we had leaders brave enough to ask the voters to do it.

What could and should happen this time:
Every building in the Park today could be recognized for the original display it housed in 1915-1916, and that representation of life could be contrasted to life 100 years later.

The 1915 Exposition’s goal was to show the world that our port was ready to receive the world’s products, for the benefit of San Diegans, Californians, and Americans. San Diegans also had agricultural, technological, horticultural, and ethnic (yes, Native Americans were part of the Expo and should be again) products to share with the world. We were the “City of Permanent Prosperity” and the “Port Talked of Around the World.” There were model farms and bungalows,citrus groves, samples of foods grown far away and close to home, and new technology product demonstrations. Now, 100 years later, the original buildings and grounds could be used to demonstrate what/who we were and how things have changed. Pretty simple idea – we have history, automotive, railway, and aerospace museums in the Park. We have gardens and landscaping. We have some new things, other than hotels and tourism, to demonstrate. All of the basic components are in place.

Nothing like this can probably happen now, at this late date. But if it does, it won’t happen if “the neighborhoods” [= their multitudes of 501(c)s] run the show. I suspect that would just result in a bunch of food booths, beer gardens, banners, promotions, and sign-up tables to support one group or the other. Boring. But maybe that’s all we are in 2015, under the government and leadership we have had for so long and still have.

As George Carlin says, just because you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.


Kevin Swanson June 12, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Just to update you on my efforts surrounding the 100th Anniversary of the 1915 San Diego Exposition,
I’ve put together a 17 minute video and posted it on YouTube that explains some of what I am working on as a Regional Vision.

I hope all your wishes come true!
Maybe you will have one of them inscribed in the “Streets of Dreams” spreading from Balboa pARK.
I have ARK in capital letters because I want to build a Brand where Balboa pARK is compared to a modern Noah’s Ark, where Nature + Knowledge are preserved for future generations.

I won’t be doing this alone. It requires an initial “grubstake” on the nonprofit and profit sides of the equation. My team will have six months to do what I should have had four years to prepare and execute.
Balboa pARK is a challenge – yet with everyone focused what I outline can occur, even though The City has set barriers. The Public needs to let The Mayor and City Council Members know their opinion.


South Park June 12, 2014 at 2:11 pm

In my comment above, I omitted an important point:

All classes of people in San Diego participated in and benefited from the 1915 Exposition. The wealthy and the working classes gave willingly to make it happen, and the monies that were contributed by all redounded to all. Millions of dollars were not wasted by select people, on select people, to generate paper plans with no hope of implementation, all of the paper plans contingent on branding and guaranteed returns.

The return on the approved bonds in 1910 and 1913 was huge: hundreds, maybe thousands, of local jobs and businesses were created over the next 6 years. Men and women – especially women, because World War I had taken men out of the job market – worked at all kinds of jobs creating and running the Exposition. Homes and apartments were built to house workers; business at banks, bathhouses, liveries, grocery stores, laundries, service stations, auto shops, furniture/appliance stores, and clothing stores boomed, even in war time.

A final point: The significant reason for the 1915 Exposition was our port, proudly billed as the first stop north of the Panama Canal. Up to that time, our wharves at the foot of Market Street mainly took in steamship boatloads of visitors and lumber and supplies from cities up the northern Pacific Coast. With the Canal, the whole world could come to us and we could reach out to the world. That is what the Panama-California Exposition was about.

So, where is the Port Authority, the cruise ship industry, and the ship building industry today, as we hope for some kind of centennial?

If everyone could just forget the lust for “branding” and simply contribute to creating a perspective of what we were and what we are now, it could be a great celebration.


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