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Top Attractions in Balboa Park

San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is a zoo in Balboa Park, San Diego, California, housing over 3,700 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies. Its parent organization, San Diego Zoo Global, is one of the largest zoological membership associations in the world, with more than 250,000 member households and 130,000 child memberships, representing more than a half million people. The San Diego Zoo was a pioneer in the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that re-create natural animal habitats. It is one of the few zoos in the world that houses and successfully breeds the giant panda. In 2013, the zoo added a new Koalafornia Adventure exhibit, providing an updated Australian animal experience. 2017 will see the opening of Africa Rocks. It is privately moderated by the nonprofit Zoological Society of San Diego on 100 acres (40 ha) of Balboa Park leased from the City of San Diego, and ownership of all animals, equipment and other assets rests with the City of San Diego. The San Diego Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), and a member of the Zoological Association of America (ZAA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). San Diego Zoo Global also operates the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. The San Diego Zoo grew out of exotic animal exhibitions abandoned after the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth founded the Zoological Society of San Diego, meeting October 2, 1916, which initially followed precedents set by the New York Zoological Society at the Bronx Zoo. He served as president of the society until 1941. A permanent tract of land in Balboa Park was set aside in August 1921; on the advice of the city attorney, it was agreed that the city would own all the animals and the zoo would manage them. The zoo began to move in the following year. In addition to the animals from the Exposition, the zoo acquired a menagerie from the defunct Wonderland Amusement Park. Ellen Browning Scripps financed a fence around the zoo so that it could begin charging an entrance fee to offset costs. The publication ZooNooz commenced in early 1925. Animal collector Frank Buck went to work as director of the San Diego Zoo on June 13, 1923, signed to a three-year contract by Wegeforth. William T. Hornaday, director of the Bronx Zoo, had recommended Buck for the job, but Buck quickly clashed with the strong-willed Wegeforth and left the zoo after three months to return to animal collecting. After several other equally short-lived zoo directors, Wegeforth appointed the zoo's bookkeeper, Belle Benchley, to the position of executive secretary, in effect zoo director; she was given the actual title of zoo director a few years later. She served as zoo director from 1925 until 1953. For most of that time she was the only female zoo director in the world. She was succeeded as director by Dr. Charles Schroeder. The San Diego Zoo was a pioneer in building "cageless" exhibits. Wegeforth was determined to create moated exhibits from the start, and the first lion area at the San Diego Zoo without enclosing wires opened in 1922. Until the 1960s, admission for children under 16 was free regardless of whether they were accompanied by a paying adult. The zoo's Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species (CRES) was founded in 1975 at the urging of Kurt Benirschke, who became its first director. CRES was renamed the division of Conservation and Research for Endangered Species in 2005 to better reflect its mission. In 2009 CRES was significantly expanded to become the Institute for Conservation Research. An orangutan named Ken Allen was reported in several newspapers in the summer of 1985 for repeatedly escaping from the supposedly escape-proof orangutan enclosure. The world's only albino koala in a zoological facility was born September 1, 1997, at the San Diego Zoo and was named Onya-Birri, which means "ghost boy" in an Australian Aboriginal language. The San Diego Zoo has the largest number of koalas outside of Australia. In 2014, a colony of African penguins arrived for the first time in the zoo since 1979. They will be moved into Africa Rocks when it opens sometime in 2017. In 2016, Baba, the last pangolin on display in North America, died at the zoo. The San Diego Zoo has had a number of notable escapees through the years, the most noteworthy of them is Ken Allen, a Bornean orangutan who came to be known as "the hairy Houdini," for his many escapes. In early 2015, two Wolf guenons monkeyed around outside of their Ituri Forest enclosure. One of the monkeys neared a fence line off of Route 163, but was brought back to safety without injury. In 2014, a koala named Mundu escaped to a neighboring tree just outside its Koalafornia Australia Outback enclosure. Zookeepers lured him down the tree once the park closed that day. In March 2013, the zoo, which was hosting a private party at the time, had to initiate a lockdown when two striped hyenas somehow got past their barriers, before they were "darted with a sedative and taken to the veterinary care clinic." The zoo offers a guided tour bus that traverses 75% of the park. There is an overhead gondola lift called the Skyfari, providing an aerial view of the zoo. The Skyfari was built in 1969 by the Von Roll tramway company of Bern, Switzerland. The San Diego Zoo Skyfari is a Von Roll type 101. Exhibits are often designed around a particular habitat. The same exhibit features many different animals that can be found side-by-side in the wild, along with native plant life. Exhibits range from an African rain forest (featuring gorillas) to the Arctic taiga and tundra in the summertime (featuring polar bears). Some of the largest free-flight aviaries in existence are here. Many exhibits are "natural" with invisible wires and darkened blinds (to view birds), and pools and open-air moats (for large mammals). The San Diego Zoo also operates the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which displays animals in a more expansive setting than at the zoo. Animals are regularly exchanged between the two locations, as well as between San Diego Zoo and other zoos around the world, usually in accordance with Species Survival Plan recommendations. The temperate, sunny maritime climate is well suited to many plants and animals. Besides an extensive collection of birds, reptiles, and mammals, it also maintains its grounds as an arboretum, with a rare plant collection. The botanical collection includes more than 700,000 exotic plants. As part of its gardening effort, it raises some rare animal foods. For example, the zoo raises 40 varieties of bamboo for the pandas on long-term loan from China, and it maintains 18 varieties of eucalyptus trees to feed its koalas. Keepers and most other employees at the San Diego Zoo are members of Teamsters Union Local 481.

Zoro Garden Nudist Colony

Zoro Gardens Nudist Colony was an attraction at the 1935-36 Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park in San Diego, California. It was located in Zoro Garden, a sunken garden originally created for the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition. Billed as a nudist colony, it was populated by hired performers rather than actual practicing nudists. The women wore only G-strings; the men wore loincloths or trunks. The participants lounged around in their "colony", played volleyball and other games, and performed a quasi-religious "Sacrifice to the Sun God" five times a day. Fair attendees could pay for admission to bleacher-type seats, or they could peek through knotholes in a wooden fence for free. On August 27, 1936, the colony closed, allegedly "after an argument with Exposition officials about finances." Contemporary newspaper accounts indicate the "colony" was composed of actual nudists, but local historian Matthew Alice has stated that the women were "wearing flesh-colored bras, G-strings, or body stockings so everything was zipped up tight." However, the women were indeed topless, as countless un-doctored photographs plainly show. Excerpted with permission from the book: "San Diegos Balboa Park" by David Marshall, AIA Nate Eagle, a sideshow promoter who, with partner Stanley R. Graham, created the scandalous Zoro Gardens nudist colony. Located in a sunken garden east of the Palace of Better Housing, Zoro Gardens was, according to the Zoro Gardens program, "designed to explain to the general public the ideals and advantages of natural outdoor life." Topless women and bearded men in loincloths read books, sunbathed, and acted in pseudo-religious rituals to the Sun God. According to the program, "Healthy young men and women, indulging in the freedom of outdoor living in which they so devoutly believe, have opened their colony to the friendly, curious gaze of the public." The public’s curious gaze quickly turned Zoro Gardens into the Exposition’s most lucrative outdoor attraction. Despite protests, Zoro Gardens lasted for the entire run of the Exposition. The area is now the Zoro Butterfly Garden.

California Quadrangle

The California Quadrangle, California Building, and California Tower are historic structures located in Balboa Park in San Diego, California. They were built for the 1915–16 Panama-California Exposition and served as the grand entry to the Expo. The buildings and courtyard were designed by noted architect Bertram Goodhue. They were added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 17, 1974. They now house the San Diego Museum of Man. The Quadrangle includes the California Building and Tower on the north side, and Evernham Hall and the St. Francis Chapel on the south side. Between them is an open space linked by arcaded passageways and massive arched gateways to form the Plaza de California. The original Balboa Park Administration Building (now the Gill Administration Building) lies just outside the Quadrangle, adjacent to and west of the California Building. Unlike most of the exhibits at the Expo, the Quadrangle buildings were intended to be permanent. The Plaza de California is the main entryway to Balboa Park, approached over the Cabrillo Bridge. That entry is currently a two-lane road providing vehicle access to the park. The city approved plans to divert vehicle traffic away from the Plaza de California and restore it as a pedestrian-only promenade, hoping to complete the project in time to celebrate the 2015 centennial of the Exposition. However, the plan was challenged in court and was overturned by a judge on February 4, 2013, on the grounds that the city had not followed its own Municipal Code requirements in approving it.

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