San Antonio Zoo Improvements – San Antonio TX


“In 1928 the San Antonio Zoological Society, a nonprofit organization, was established to purchase animals to be housed adjoining Brackenridge and Koehler parks on a fifty-acre tract of land from a Spanish grant that belonged to the city. The site had been a rock quarry, and the resultant limestone cliffs provided a “natural” habitat for the animals. The San Antonio River flowed through the area, and an extensive canal system was developed using its water. The zoo opened in 1929 with 344 specimens in the collection, including seventy-two white-tailed deer and sixty-seven ring-necked doves.” (Bowers, 2010)

In 1935, the San Antonio Zoo began a large expansion and renovation project funded by the WPA. The WPA’s funding of the zoo lead to many great additions like the exhibits for the hippos, elephants, and monkeys, and added to the overall beauty of the zoo through new walls and fences.

The WPA started the zoo projects with building new homes for several animals. The elephant project was very large as well as barless – a recent innovation at the time, designed to give the animals a more natural living environment. The hippo exhibit was also large in size, but is no longer there because the hippos were moved to another location in the zoo. A new exhibit for the monkeys in the zoo was also built, but was redone because the zoo now houses only small monkey breeds. The exhibits for these animals were completed in 1936 (San Antonio Light, May 2, 1939).

The WPA next built a large African exhibit which housed rhinos, and giraffes. This was also a barless exhibit and was very spacious in order to accommodate the needs of these large animals. This project started in 1936 and was completed in three years. The exhibits cost $167,168 and the majority of it was covered by the WPA. The city of San Antonio only had to pay $50,000 of the total cost (San Antonio Light, Oct. 29, 1939).

Another WPA project in the San Antonio Zoo was a new drainage system in the sea lion exhibit pool, and new walls and fences for the entire zoo. This project began in 1939 and cost the WPA $20,000. There is no longer a sea lion exhibit in the zoo. The WPA was also involved in the San Antonio Zoo after the 1930’s. In January of 1941, they began a project to build an aviary for the zoo. It was 25 by 100 feet and cost the WPA $15,000 (San Antonio Light, Jan. 28, 1941). The 1942 Reptile House was the WPA’s final project in the zoo (Bell).

Today the Zoo is home to over 9,000 animals that represent 750 species. Work done by the WPA is still evident. The bird of prey aviary is now the Lory Landing and Monkey Island has been re-adapted for other uses. The moats, rhino and hippo exhibits and Reptile House are still in use.

Source notes

Bowers, M. J. (2010, June 15). "SAN ANTONIO ZOO,". Retrieved from Handbook of Texas Online:

Catharine E. Bell, ed. (2001). In Encyclopedia of the World's Zoos (pp. 1121-1122). Taylor & Francis.

"Ground Broken for Zoo Aviary." The San Antonio Light 28 Jan. 1941, sec. A: 7. Print.

“Zoo Barless Cages Nearly Completed.” The San Antonio Light 2 May. 1939, sec A: 1. Print.

“Housewarming Party at Zoo.” The San Antonio Light 28 June. 1936, sec B: 1. Print.

“Work Slated on WPA Project.” The San Antonio Light 29 October. 1939, sec B: 3. Print

Project originally submitted by Elizabeth Hilburn; Maggie McCarthy (Columbia College) on May 5, 2014.

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Location Info

3903 N. St. Mary’s Street
San Antonio, TX 78212

Coordinates: 29.4623147, -98.47359360000002

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