Zoo Facts and History
Hours of Operation
Family Membership Price
Number of Employees
Number of Volunteers
Mrs. Child was a strong-willed New England woman. She had been a gracious hostess at the social galas for which Vegamar was famous, and she became an equally gracious hostess to a community of "knights on the road," homeless pensioners who lived in shacks on her property. Around 1935 a few men, victims of the Depression, stopped for awhile on Mrs. Child's property. To the chagrin of local authorities she didn't drive them off, but instead allowed them to settle there and eventually to build a permanent, self policed community. She insisted on order and neatness, occasionally visiting them to inspect the premises, hand out advice, and on holidays, half dollars.
Later in her life, Mrs. Child was no longer able to maintain Vegamar in its accustomed grand manner. She offered her estate to the Santa Barbara Foundation, to be disposed of upon her death in such a fashion benefiting the community. The Foundation accepted her gift, and in 1947 took over the deed to Vegamar. Mrs. Child and her squatters remained in residence and the Foundation assumed responsibility for city and state taxes on the property.
Mrs. Child died in August 1951, and in 1952 the estate formally passed to the Foundation. At the time, 32 single men all over the age of 50 were living in the shanty village on the property; seven of them had lived there since 1935. Mrs. Child asked that the men not be made homeless as a result of her death, and the Foundation made no alteration in living arrangements at Vegamar, except to install a Westmont College student and his family in the main house as caretakers.
In September 1953, Foundation President Archie M. Edwards recommended the Foundation make the Child estate a gift to the City, for use as a park. The Trustees concurred and in October 1953, Edwards presented the City with the deed to the Child Estate property. Edwards commented, "this is the 25th anniversary of the incorporation of the Santa Barbara Foundation, and this might be considered a birthday gift in reverse."
As the years passed, the main house itself was in bad repair, and the City decided it could not be used for any civic purpose. In July 1959, the city fire department burned down the 63-year-old pink stucco mansion. An observer at the fire, Park Superintendent Finlay A. Mackenzie, conceived the idea the property could be turned into an estate for children, with animals, gardens, and play areas. Mackenzie approached the Junior Chamber of Commerce with his suggestion, and a fundraising drive was launched. "Jungleville" would cease to exist, but in keeping with Mrs. Child's wishes, the three residents of the shanty village whose tenancy had begun during her lifetime were protected; they were moved into cottages on nearby public property.
In August 1963, the Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens opened its doors to the public, and has continued to serve and fulfill this mission: preservation, conservation, and enhancement of the natural world and its living treasures through education, research, and recreation.