Barnes City Zoo
Al Barnes Circus made Venice California its winter home from 1914 ot 1919
between the first week in December and the first week in March. It was
located near the Venice Lagoon in a large circus tent and several smaller
ones behind the Race Thru the Clouds roller coaster. But as the circus
grew in size, they looked for a more permanent home with more space.
Since the circus exhibited several thousand performing animals during
their 35,000 mile annual tour via private train, they opened the Barnes Circus Zoo in December
1923 at a cost of $79,000 at the corner of Washington Blvd. and McLauglin.
The circus claimed that it had more performing animals (1200), than all
the other circuses combined. There were 180 horses in one act alone.
Al Barnes - Circus OwnerAlpheus George Barnes Stonehouse was born on a farm in Ontario, Canada in 1862. Since boring farm life didn't suit the feisty boy, he ran away from home to the city. He became a street peddler and later a roadshow impresario. After seeing a demonstration of Edison's motion pictures, he bought a projector and phonograph and in 1895 arrived in Glenwood Springs, Colorado on a horse-drawn wagon. He met Dolly Barlow there, who owned a small farm. When he married her five years later, they used the $2700 from the sale of her farm to purchase several road shows that formed the nucleus of his circus.
Al Barnes, always attracted to beautiful women, was accused in divorce court by his wife Dolly in 1916, of having many lovers and deserting her. During the five year public battle he became involved with Babe Eckhart, his calliope player. When he refused to marry her, she shot and killed herself on the step of his private Pullman railcar in Idaho in 1919. Two years later, after agreeing on a property settlement with Dolly, he married Sarah Jane Hartigan, his circus bareback rider. But despite a child between them before marriage, in 1921 he obtained a Nevada divorce on the grounds of battery. She had chased him around a locked cage with a horsewhip in front of thousands of spectators. She slapped him with a paternity suit, and the six year legal battle contesting the divorce didn't end until he finally admitted that two of their three children were his. She wasn't the last of his many wives.
AnnexationSelling surplus property to homeowners proved to be the circus' undoing. Barnes' winter home neighbors began to resent his circus, because noise like the roar of the lions at feeding time could be heard a mile away, and his disorderly circus employees bought liquor from the local bootleggers. In October 1925, Culver City sought through the ballot to annex the Walnut Park area which included a long slender shoestring piece of property along Washington Blvd to Walnut, one block east of Lincoln Blvd. It was only 484 acres (3/4 square mile), but it included all the businesses along the boulevard, and part of Barnes City where the zoo was located. The vote was 84 to 50.
To ensure Culver City didn't annex additional property of Barnes City, which was nicknamed "Monkeyville," the La Ballona Improvement Association was formed to petition the county government to officially incorporate the remaining property as a city. To protect his interests, Al Barnes took an active part in the incorporation election that occurred in Feburary 1926. While some of the 692 registered voters lived in the adjacent neighborhoods, 254 were employed by the circus, Virtually the entire electorate, 603 approved the incorporation. Some claimed that "Barnes changed his entire circus schedule on election day so that the monkeys could vote without leaving their cages." Barnes handpicked the city's first Board of Trustees, and made his brother mayor.
But in March of that year, the dissatisfied homeowners demanded a new election. When the Board of Trustees refused, the citizens took their case to the California Supreme Court. In the April election (when the circus was out of town), the Home Owners ticket, backed and supported by individuals opposed to Barnes faction, was elected. Then a group of citizens circulated a petition seeking an annexation election with Los Angeles. On September 15, 1926, Barnes City, by a vote of 261 FOR, and 153 AGAINST, became a part of Los Angeles.
Circus RelocatesAnnexation of Barnes City to both Culver City in 1925 and Los Angeles in 1926 brought regulation to their property. Anger over the townsfolk' revolt, Barnes decided to his winter quarters to unincorporated land in the San Gabriel Valley. In Feburary 1927 he bought a tract of land a quarter of a mile long facing Valley Blvd. between El Monte and Baldwin Park for $1,000,000. The move would be short lived since the circus was sold in 1929 for $1,000,000 to an eastern syndicate, who operated the American Circus Corporation.