They Tried to Auction Off the Zoo

In 1932, the San Diego Zoo almost closed!

The San Diego County Assessor, trying to obtain funds for a city struggling during the Depression, announced that the San Diego Zoo owed more than $6,000 in back taxes on the property and holdings. But the assessor hadn’t done his homework: the Zoological Society leased the property from the city and did not own it, and therefore did not owe taxes. The Zoo board declined to pay.

While Dr. Harry was out of town, the assessor hastily organized an auction in front of the Zoo and tried to sell the animals, then the Zoo property, to the some 150 people who had gathered, which included animal dealers. However, several city councilmen and police officers also attended, and they warned people that they would be arrested if they purchased and took away any animals or property. There were no bidders.

As a result, the frustrated assessor announced that the Zoo was “sold” to the state. But the state didn’t want anything to do with these goings-on. The auction was declared illegal, and the Zoo was able to resume operations as usual. Belle Benchley and the trustees breathed a sigh of relief—and Dr. Harry did not have to take on the city when he got home.


Tenacity 1927 - 1936
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