The Zoo has a rich history of community involvement and animal preservation. The land where the Zoo currently resides originally belonged to a wealthy aristocratic Englishmen, Guy Phinney. He initially invested $40,000 to help develop a traditional English park, a formal rose garden, a massive and intricate stone entrance, a small deer park, and even an electric trolley line for his private street car.
Woodland Park was purchased by the city's first zoo, which was owned by the Lake Washington Cable Railway, in the late 19th century. The formal gardens of the Phinney Estate were maintained and the addition of pathways and animal quarters were developed shortly thereafter.
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Despite the construction of a 6-lane highway division that split the original park land into two halves, the "upper" portion of the woodland park continued to grow and evolve into the currently beloved Woodland Park Zoo. Construction on the zoo even continued during the Great Depression, including a commissary, beaver ponds, and a monkey island.
The children's zoo was opened in 1967 after 20 years of deliberation and slow acquisition of funding. The Zoo eventually received a trust of $4.5 million in 1968 to extend the Zoo and its attractions. The zoo did not have a comprehensive plan to utilize the money and eventually the city council intervened and developed the "1976 Long Range Plan".
The Long Range Plan was the Zoo's first official Master Plan and it resulted in many new additions and expansions to the Zoo, including the following beloved exhibits: African Savanna, Gorilla Exhibit, Primate Islands, and North American Marsh and Swamp.
In 2002, the City of Seattle entered the zoo into an Operations and Management Agreement with the Woodland Park Zoological Society. Through this society, the zoo and its affiliates have managed to raise funding for the addition of the following attractions: African Village, African Wild Dog exhibit, Jaguar Cove, the historic carousel, the Zoomazium, and the Humboldt penguin exhibit.
The Zoo remains active in its local Seattle community, it even strives to remain connected with its neighbors through newsletters and liaison committees. The dedicated staff members at the Zoo also believe that everyone should have access to their community zoo, no matter their economical standing. Through partnerships with more than 400 human service organizations in the King County area, the Zoo provides more than 70,000 complimentary passes to the zoo each year.
The Zoo has continuously pursued excellence in regards to animal care and development, conservation, access for all community members, and breath-taking landscaping and architecture. Visitors can be guaranteed to have a wonderful and enlightening experience at the Woodland Park Zoo.