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The Land That Time Forgot : Years Before Walt, Mickey and Disneyland, Anaheim Had Jack Dutton, Jerry the Chimp and Jungle Garden

December 01, 1993|MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — In this city, Mickey is the Big Mouse on Campus.

He and his people are everywhere, as can be expected in a community where land is being bought for a massive $3-billion expansion of the 65-year-old mouse's home.

But it wasn't always so.

"There was a time when my Jerry was The One," says Jack Dutton, a former mayor of Anaheim. "Mickey had nothing on Jerry."

Jerry, Dutton boosts, was "The World's Most Human Chimp," and for several years before the rodent moved to town, Jerry was the city's darling. There was no Disneyland back then--only Dutton's Jungle Garden, the city's first big-scale tourist attraction.

Dutton's contributions to the city are now just faded memories, long since paved over in the name of progress. He has officially resigned from the tourism business but is still one of the industry's biggest supporters.

He is an ardent supporter of the Walt Disney Co.'s ambitious plans to build a new resort and theme park next to Disneyland and has spoken in favor of the project at several public hearings this summer.

"This project will be great for the city," Dutton, 83, says during a recent interview from a mobile home park that he lives in and manages. "But so was mine."

In its heyday, Dutton's Jungle Garden was one of the most popular places in Anaheim. On weekends, thousands of visitors thronged the park at the corner of Orangethorpe and Raymond (then East) avenues. Part zoo, part nightclub, the garden was the place to see and be seen.

"I beat Walt to the punch," says Dutton, who built his park in 1952, three years before Disneyland opened. "It was," he remembers, "a glorious place."

The tropic-themed Dutton's Palms Restaurant in the park was a hangout for city officials and occasional entertainers and movie stars, such as actor Dale Robertson and singer Eartha Kitt. Everyone wanted to rub elbows with Jack Dutton, an entrepreneur who served as a city councilman in Fullerton and Anaheim before becoming the latter's mayor in 1970.

"Everybody knew about Jack's place," says Councilman Irv Pickler, who owned a business near the park. "The restaurant was a swinging place for the grown-ups and the kids."

It was a sight to behold. Faded snapshots in the Anaheim Library's historical files show a restaurant as Polynesian as the latter-day Tiki Room at Disneyland. At the Palms, you could find hula dancers, ukulele strummers and roast pig luaus.

The restaurant was surrounded by the garden, lush with exotic plants and 512 palm trees. It was home to bears, elephants, alligators and thousands of tropical birds. More important, it showcased Jerry.

"Jerry could do almost anything a human could do," recalled Dutton. "He was like a child to me and my wife."

Jerry was toilet-trained, ate at the dinner table, dressed himself in the morning and put himself in bed at night. The chimp amused garden guests in the daytime and watered plants around the seven-acre park after hours.

"I loved Jerry," Dutton says. "He was the reason I built the garden."

In the beginning, Dutton only wanted a place for the chimp to hang out. He planted tropical plants and trees to make the animal feel at home, even though Jerry lived in the house with Dutton and his first wife, Dorothy.

As his roadside attraction blossomed, Dutton collected more animals and planted more and more vegetation. It became, he says, one of the largest privately owned zoos in the country.

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The glory days come to life in yellowed newspaper clippings, flashy brochures and other memorabilia at Sunkist Gardens Mobile Home Park in Anaheim, managed by Dutton and his second wife, Kay.

"I wanted it to look like a tropical paradise," says Dutton, blowing dust from one of his scrapbooks.

So it was, in the beginning. Dutton charged no admission into the zoo and a trip to the garden became a popular outing for tourists, schoolchildren, church groups and people looking for inexpensive entertainment.

But as the garden grew, so did Dutton's problems: increasing food bills for the animals and liability insurance premiums for himself. He started an honor admission system, where adult guests dropped 50 cents in a bucket; children, 10 cents. It didn't solve his money woes. Thieves sneaked into the garden at night and took the flamingos.

His biggest headaches were high school pranksters who rattled the cages and squirted the animals with fire extinguishers. That prank cost Dutton half his right index finger:

"They got Big Joe (the ape) all riled up one night," Dutton says. "I went out there to try and calm him down. But when I put my finger through the fence, he bit it off."

*

Other disasters were narrowly averted.

Dutton had to rescue a 3-year-old boy from the lion's cage, where his parents had put him because they thought the animals were tame. The boy was unharmed. Another time, a visitor accidentally broke the glass snake house, freeing a diamondback rattler to roam the garden. The snake was recaptured.

Ultimately, a spate of lawsuits forced Dutton to sell off all the dangerous animals at his zoo.

Even Jerry's days were numbered.

The chimp needed too much supervision to live in Dutton's house. But domestication had made Jerry almost human. Dutton recalled: "He went berserk in the cage."

Dutton tried hiring caretakers for the chimp, but none worked out. He tried giving the animal to a zoo, but none would accept it. Finally one day, Dutton took Jerry out to the garden, gave him a shovel and had him dig a deep hole. "When he finished," Dutton says, "I told him to jump inside." A policeman friend of Dutton's dispatched the animal with a shot to the head.

"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Dutton said, tears welling in his eyes. "I would never humanize a chimp again."

In 1974, further financial woes forced Dutton to padlock the restaurant and close the garden for good. Today, it is the site of an office building and a parking lot.

"I always told Walt he was smarter than me," Dutton said. "He made his animals animated; I had to feed mine."

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