Anaheim's Original Theme Park: Dutton's Jungle Gardens

Courtesy Fullerton Public Library
Jerry the Chimp. The main attraction at Dutton's Jungle Gardens in Anaheim. The tropical theme park opened in 1952.
Before Anaheim was invaded by Disney rodents, a large theme park was drawing crowds of up to 30,000 guests a month. Instead of a mouse, the main attraction was a human-like chimpanzee. The year was 1952, three years before uncle Walty opened Disneyland, and Dutton's Jungle Gardens sprawled across 7-acres at the intersection of Orangethorpe and Raymond Avenues. Anaheim native Jack Dutton transformed the small orange grove into a lush tropical wonderland replete with an aviary and populated by a menagerie of jungle critters. Despite the fact that Dutton would go on to serve on Fullerton's planning commission, become Anaheim's mayor (four times), and is credited with helping to bring the Angels to town, folks typically give blank stares when asked about this once grand attraction. 

Jungle Gardens Birdseye.jpg
Courtesy Fullerton Public Library
A bird's eye view of Dutton's Jungle Gardens on Orangethorpe (foreground) and Raymond Avenues. The Akua Motor Inn (lower right) is still standing.

Not surprisingly, the spot where Jungle Gardens sat is now a drab business park. But stacks of newspaper clippings and assorted ephemera housed in the Fullerton and Anaheim libraries tell the tale of a homegrown entrepeneur--part politician, part carnival barker (one and the same?)--who was inspired by his pet chimp to create a world out of a Rudyard Kipling novel and generously share it with the public.

Jack Dutton was born in Anaheim in 1910. After his parents divorced, he lived with his grandmother on a local ranch. Photos from the Anaheim High School yearbook show he was an accomplished athlete who played baseball, basketball, and in 1926 was captain of the football team. 

He got his start in business selling wiping rags to service stations. According to a Los Angeles Times obituary, he'd become a millionaire by the time he reached his 40s. In 1950, he and his first wife Dorothy acquired a chimpanzee named Jerry. Billed as the world's most domesticated chimp, Jerry was toilet trained, could brush his own teeth and dress himself. Dutton would lend Jerry out for television work, but neighbors were leery of having the wild primate living so close to families.

 "Our neighbors were afraid our 'little monster' was going to eat their 'little monsters," Dutton once told the Orange County Register. "So we decided to open up a place on Orangethorpe." 

Courtesy Fullerton Public Library

When it was completed, the seven-acre-plus property was covered with more than 500 palm trees and crawled with assorted megafauna: an alligator, bear, lion, three elephants, orangutans and more. Admission to the jungle was free and large paths led people through the dense canopy where they could get close to the animals, which inevitably caused liability issues. 

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