The glass palace was once a part of the estate of A.K.P. Harmon in Oakland.
Albion Keith Paris Harmon settled in Oakland in 1872 after making a fortune in the Comstock mines. He settled on 6.2 acres of land on the shores of Lake Merritt next to Sacred Heart College.
He soon after he built his house, conservatory, and magisterial carriage house.
In an 1882 biographical sketch on Mr. Harmon, the writer alluded that
“…greenhouse, which contains one of the most extensive collections of rare plants on the Pacific Coast.”
Mr. Harmon died in 1896, and his estate was subdivided and sold.
Mr. Edson F. Adams, son of one of the city founders, purchased the conservatory and had it moved to a two-acre park he had created at the head of Lake Merritt, known as Edson Plaza. The new park was called Edson Plaza and Conservatory or Adams Park.
The Adams heirs spent a large sum of money creating the park. The site was once a foul and unsightly marsh. It took about 18 months to complete the project.
The conservatory had to be moved intact, as it was constructed in a way it could not be disassembled. It was reported to have cost several thousand dollars to build in the 1880s. Walter J. Mathews, an architect, supervised the move.
The entire plaza was perfectly kept lawn with maple, poplar, birch, willow, and eucalyptus trees along the border. In the center was the conservatory in the shape of a cross 72 by 60 feet in size containing several thousand potted plants. John McLaren (Golden Gate Park) prepared plans for the conservatory and park’s upkeep and care.
The Oakland Hearld proudly announced, “Conservatory and Park Are Gift to Oakland’s People.”
In 1903 the Edson Heirs Donated the park to the city of Oakland.
“…gift is that the city shall forever maintain the plaza as a public park and keep up the handsome conservatory which stands in it.”
Oakland Tribune July 11, 1903
Relic of the Past
“So, another landmark is destroyed.”
In September 1918, an official notice came from the park commissioners to sell the conservatory and its contents. It has was too costly for the city to keep up.
“Now its life is ended. There no further use for it.”
Auction Sale – September 10, 1918
The “Forever Park” is Gone
In 1926, Oakland’s city council opted to lease land that Edson Plaza (then called Adams Park) to the country for a new Veterans’ Memorial Building. Which meant the conservatory would have to be razed.
Gee, did the city forget they agreed to keep it a park with the conservatory FOREVER?
Deed Doesn’t Restrict
“The deed to the property, which became known as Adams Park in 1902 after Edson Adams had erected a conservatory on the site, places no restrictions on the use and its only dedication as a park is through the city’s naming it.”
In accordance with Alameda County’s order for residents to ‘shelter in place’ for the well-being of public and staff related to COVID-19 precautionary measures, Oakland Zoo will be closed Tuesday, March 17 and remain closed until the order is lifted.
Henry A. Snow, a naturalist, collector, and African big game hunter, established the Oakland Zoo in downtown Oakland. The first Zoo was located at 19th and Harrison. The area is now known as Snow Park.
In February of 1923, the city of Oakland accepted Snow’s collection of wild animals. The collection was valued from $30,000 to $80,000.
“On behalf of the city of Oakland, we are delighted to accept this valuable collection.”
Oakland Tribune Feb 1923
Two lion cubs and a boa-constrictor formed the nucleus, with various monkeys, bobcats, a cinnamon bear, a mountain lion, and a badger completed the menagerie.
After many complaints were filed with the city council and the park board from the neighborhood residents around the Zoo, who said the collection of animals were a nuisance.
The new location was in Sequoia Mountain Park (now a part of Joaquin Miller Park.)
In 1926 Henry Snow had a stroke and died in July of 1927. Snow’s son Sidney Snow continued in father’s footsteps.
In 1936, Snow established the nonprofit organization East Bay Zoological Society, which was incorporated as the Alameda County Botanical and Zoological Society.
The new Society was seeking to move the animals to the 500-acre Durant Park.
In 1939 the Zoo moved from Joaquin Miller Park to Durant Park.
Durant Park was once the home to R.C. Durant, the President of Durant Motors. Before that, the land from owned by F.C. Talbot. The park is located at the top of 98th Avenue.
Knowland State Arboretum and Park and Zoo
Visitors enter the Oakland Zoo in Knowland Park through the landscape of the Historical Park and Arboretum. The trees throughout this area are the remnants of the Frederick Talbot estate (see Edenvale.)
A row of Canary Island Palm marks the park entry. There are Mexican Fan Palms, Chilean Palms, and exotic Bunya Bunya Trees from Australia in the meadow and picnic grounds. These trees were all planted early part of the 1900s.
Knowland Park consists of approximately 443 acres, of which 350 acres are in the undeveloped Upper Knowland Park. The Zoo (in 1996) had 56 acres within the Historical Park, and 37 acres are in the Zoological Park.
Under a contract with the City of Oakland, the East Bay Zoological Society (EBZS) has full responsibility for the operation, maintenance, and development of the 37-acre Zoo and the 443 acres of Knowland Park.
The first significant addition was the construction enclosure for Miss Effie, the elephant, at the cost of $15,000. The move from the lower park to the upper area began. Video of Miss Effie in 1965 can be seen here: website
There was a 60-foot cylindrical gibbon tower at the entrance to the Zoo. The baby zoo was located in the lower area of the new Zoo.
“The Zoo, when completed, will be the most modern and beautiful one in the country.”
Oakland Tribune 1960
By 1967 the Zoo had relocated entirely to a canyon rising to a mountain overlooking the entire East Bay Area.
The Skyline Daylight a miniature train complete with a “Vista Dome” coach.
The Baby Zoo was completed in 1965 and totally rebuilt in 2005.
When completed, the Zoo would be 100 acres.
Sidney Snow Dies
People Came to See
Zoo Under Fire
In 1983 the Zoo was listed as number six of the “The 10 ‘worst’ zoos.’
The Humane Society of the United States said the conditions at the Zoo were so adverse that the elephants might be better off “serving five to ten years in Leavenworth.”
The Zoo was “a random collection of animals maintained in amateurish fashion and failed to meet even one criterion of an acceptable zoological garden.
They called the Zoo “concrete oasis.”
The report noted that there were no signs of cruelty to the animals, and they were generally healthy.
The Zoo’s response was, “it will be a first-class zoo in a few years.”
Since 1988, Oakland Zoo has been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the national organization that sets the highest standards for animal welfare for zoos and aquariums.
New and Improved Zoo
In his tenure, Dr. Parrott has turned the Zoo entirely around, making it one of the best in the country.
Many new exhibits have been created, including those for the hamadryas baboons and the chimpanzees. A new, spacious elephant exhibit was built in 1987.
The current sun bear exhibit was finished in 1995 and was featured on Animal Planet “Ultimate Zoos.” The white-handed gibbons now live on a lush island in the heart of the Rainforest. The African Savannah, with camels, lions, elephants, meerkats, hyenas and more, was completed in 1998.
The Zoo Today
In the summer of 2005 the 3-acre Valley Children’s Zoo opened with spacious new animal exhibits along with plenty of interactive play-structures for children. The ring-tailed lemurs, century old Aldabra tortoises, the interactive Goat and Sheep Contact Yard along with the river otters can be found in the Children’s Zoo. The popular American alligators, the bats, the pot-bellied pigs, the Old-World rabbits along with the Bug Room, and the Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Room are also in the Children’s Zoo.
June 20, 2018 – Almost three years since breaking ground and more than two decades in the making, Oakland Zoo’s highly anticipated California Trail opens. The expansion more than doubles the Zoo’s current size from 45 acres to 100 acres.
The California Trail also includes the interactive California Conservation Habitarium, Conservation Action Tent, California Wilds! Playground based on California’s diverse eco-zones, and Clorox Overnight Experience ‘safari-style’ campground.
Timeline of the Zoo
1936– Snow established the nonprofit organization East Bay Zoological Society, which was incorporated as the Alameda County Botanical and Zoological Society.
1939-moved from Joaquin Miller Park to Durant Park.
1948 – Became a State Park
1949: State Park property is leased to the City of Oakland for 50 years, and the City of Oakland subleased the zoo property to the East Bay Zoological Society.
1950: -The zoo property changed its name Joseph Knowland State Arboretum and Park.
1964 –City Parks Dept and Society run zoo
1965 – The baby Zoo opened
1975 Knowland State Park was conveyed to the City of Oakland.
1982 –East Bay Zoological Society took over the maintenance, operation, and development of the city-run Zoo. The 10-year lease agreement saved the city almost $315,880 a year. The Society signed a ten-year contract.
1985 – Joel Parrott was appointed the Executive Director. A 20-year renovation plan was put in place,
1994- Renews 10-year lease.
Timeline of Major Developments
Hamadryas Baboon Exhibit 1982
Chimpanzee Exhibit – 1988
African Elephant Exhibit – 1989
African Lion Exhibit – 1992
Siamang Island Exhibit – 1993
Malayan Sun Bear Exhibit – 1996
African Savanna – 1998
Maddie’s Center – 1999
Warthog Exhibit -2000
Mahali Pa Tembo – Elephant Exhibit 2004
Wayne & Gladys Valley Children Zoo Opened 2005
Baboon Cliffs – 2009
Wild Australia – 20110
Veterinary Hospital – 2012
The East Bay Zoological Society has operated and managed the Zoo for the City of Oakland from 1982 until August 2017, when it was renamed the Conservation Society of California to reflect better Zoo’s evolving purpose mission in its commitment to conservation.
In 1909 a newly appointed commission met at city hall with then Mayor Frank Mott to assume the responsibility of establishing a public playground system.
Oakland was the second city in California to establish a playground system; the first was Los Angeles in 1905.
Superintendent of Playgrounds
In May of 1909, the commission appointed George E. Dickie, the first playground superintendent, and that summer, the city opened two “experimental” playgrounds at Tompkins and Prescott Schools.
Before 1909, the Oakland Women’s Club operated summer playgrounds for two years at West Oakland’s Tompkins and Prescott’s schools at their own expense.
With a budget of $10,000, the commission opened three municipal playgrounds in 1910.
The first was opened on January 10, 1910, at de Fremery. The park included a dozen swings, two long slides, a baseball diamond, two regulation tennis courts, and courts for basketball, volleyball, and handball.
Two weeks later, they opened Bushrod Playground at 60th Street and Shafter. The land was deeded to the city in 1904 by Dr. Bushrod Washington James of Philadelphia with the stipulations that it is maintained as a public park forever.
The first recreation “center” was built at the site, and the structure remained standing until 1943.
They then provided playground equipment to the West Oakland Park (which later became Bayview, and is now Raimondi Field)and Independence Park ( now San Antonio).
Recreation for Everyone
In 1911 the city charter was revised to include the role of recreation in the community, this resulted in disbanding the commission, and a board of playground directors was created to oversee the parks. The Parks and Recreation Department was formed