Orlando Used To Have A Zoo! Two, Actually!

by Adam Alexander
The City of Orlando used to own its own municipal zoo.  It opened in 1935 in Downtown Orlando on the current site of the Lynx Central Station at 455 N Garland Ave. The person who got the project started and kept it alive was Delmar Nicholson, known generally back then as “Radio Nick.”

In 1934 the Lions Club petitioned the City to build it and the City gave $1,500 towards the project for cages and shrubbery. A substantial amount of building material was provided by private companies.

Nicholson and his civic group the Lions Club collected animals native to Orlando and tons of rock from nearby land.  “Radio Nick” set up fundraisers to fund the construction of the zoo.  According to The Daily City, one of the fundraisers was a snake fighting contest!  Another was a circus.  Florida used to be the resting and training place for many circuses. Nick got the owner of one of these circuses to give him a full circus performance at cost, with the remaining profit to go towards the zoo.

In November 1934 it was announced the zoo already had 25-30 birds and could take ownership as soon as the cages were built.  One of the first animals donated to the zoo was an 80 pound wild hog from Mexico trapped by the head of Sparks Theatre chain, E.J. Sparks, on a hunting trip.

The zoo’s name was “Orlando Zoological Garden”.

The lions club sent multiple caravans of 10 trucks to collect rock from Walls Sink in Sumter County to use for the base of the cages.

According to Historic Photos of Orlando, “The Lions incorporated the non-profit Orlando Zoological Society December 1934.” However, the City held the title according to Historic Orlando 3.  The zoo slid into disrepair and closed a few years later.

However, this was not Orlando’s first zoo.  The first zoo was built for $10,000 in 1885. A high iron fence was erected enclosing a property shaped like a triangle.  A bandstand was built inside the fence with wire netting covering the lower part. People from all over South Florida gathered birds, alligators, snakes, turkeys, flamingos and ducks. The man who built the zoo, N.L. Mills, went broke during the cold wave of 1895.  The animals disappeared and the fence was sold.  The zoo was closed.

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