Some people claim that their house full of pets is a zoo. But Austinite A.W. Cox would have told no tall tales if he made the same boast. What started in 1939 as a pet monkey at a gas station on the Dallas Highway (now Yager and North Lamar, in the 1940's it was four miles north of the city limits) eventually became a roadside destination of its own.
Alvin Cox was running a gas station and grocery store on the site when he acquired a monkey in 1939. The monkey was quite a draw for the customers and over time more and more animals were acquired, some by owners who were moving out of the area and could not take them with them. Abandoned exotic pets became the nucleus of an early Austin zoo.
The path to the site from Walnut Creek Park's trails starts at these mostly engulfed stairs.
On Cox's 55 acres there was assembled a collection of animals that included Alligators, Bears, Bobcats, Buzzards, Cats, Chickens, Deer, Dogs, Donkeys, Ducks, Eagles, Foxes, Guinea Pigs, Javelinas, Lions, Lynx, Monkeys, Parrots, Peacocks, Pelicans, Pheasant, Raccoons, Rats, Ringtail Cats, Squirrels, Snakes, Turtles and Wolves at one time or another.
Most of the buildings on the site have collapsed in on themselves.
Alvin Cox even became something of a local celebrity and made numerous appearances on The Uncle Jay Show on KTBC-TV to show off his animals. The number of animals and the amount of food required to keep them all healthy started to mount. He accepted donations, but the funds collected paid for only about a third of the costs of the feed for the animals. It was carried on more as a labor of love.
This barn is the largest remaining structure at the site.
There was also a rock garden that featured specimens from "all 48 states" (Alaska and Hawaii did not join the Union until 1959) and "almost every country in the world". In the midst of the rock garden a series of miniature panorama highlighted moments of Texas history. Cabins were rented out and a spring fed lake offered fishing opportunities (the dam creating the lake was torn down when the City of
Austin acquired the property for Walnut Creek Park).
The cages at Coxville Zoo came in all shapes and sizes.
With the completion of I-35 traffic on the Dallas Highway declined. Opposition from the Humane Society and local residents applied additional pressure on the zoo. An effort was made to have the city of Austin take over the operation, but the City Council voted down the idea. The zoo closed its doors in 1969 and its animals were distributed to other zoos. Austin to this day still does not have an official zoo of its own.
Rows of these cages held lions and alligators.
While the animals have long since been gone, some of the buildings and cages in which they lived remain. For years the old filling station at the front of the zooo stood abandoned on Lamar Blvd. with no indication of what might remain in the heavy brush behind it. In the late 1990's the gas station building burned down and a new building constructed just to the south of its location.
This wheeled cage may have come from a circus and sits in the middle of the ruins.
Approaching the area from the west in Walnut Creek Park one first encounters the foundation a building, partially covered in debris from the building's collapse or destruction. The dense brush makes maneuvering around the area difficult. But then the sky opens up. Someone had
recently cleared a large area around the zoo, slashing all of the vegetation in sight and letting the clippings lay where they fell. It made walking difficult, but it was easier to look around.
This stonework is all that can be seen from Lamar Blvd. and might have formed part of the entrance to the zoo.
Several of the animal cages remain. Judging from a map
drawn by an Austin school girl the Alligator and Lion cages are in place as are the cages that housed the smaller animals like the mice, cats and guinea pigs. A barn sits near where the Round Monkey Cage is shown on the map. A wheeled cage sits in the center of the remains. The parking area is the location of the new building whose fence marks the present western edge of the site.
Austin remains one of the larger cities in the United States without a formal zoo.