Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Santa Barbara Zoo – From Jungle to Jewel

"It was a Thursday afternoon, around 1959, when I volunteered to help Bob Kallman and the Jaycees clean the tangle of Eucalyptus, vines, and weeds at the Child Estate. The house had been razed by the fire department and the place was a mess." Ted McToldridge was filling me in on a bit of local history as we strolled the lushly planted paths commanding panoramic views of the Santa Ynez Mountains, Andree Clark Bird Refuge, and Pacific Ocean. "It was the kick-off event to develop a new park that would include a community center, ice skating rink, botanical garden, and farmyard."

Long ago, this area served as a camp for Chumash who fished the coastal waters. Centuries later, John Beale, a retired New York coffee and tea merchant built a pink stucco, red tile roof mansion on the site and named it Vegamar, meaning Star of the Sea. At age 68, he married 35-year-old Lillian Bailey, who years after Beale's death, married John H. Child, hence the more recent estate name. Through the Great Depression, Mrs. Child extended her compassion to dozens of out-of-work "hobos" who rode the nearby rails. She allowed them to live in shacks on the property, governed by their own mayor, provided they lived respectful, sober lives. Locals called it Childville, but it was also known as the Hobo Jungle. The hobos have passed away, but "jungle" still applies.

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