The Old Franklin Park Zoo Bear Dens are some of Massachusetts’ most fascinating abandoned structures. They have been left here since the 1930s and are open to the public for exploration. The bear dens can be found in the Northeast corner of Franklin Park in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts.
The bear dens were part of the original Franklin Park Zoo. The idea for a zoo in Franklin Park was conceived by Frederick Law Olmsted, who was the original landscape designer of the park. He had a grand vision for the park and it included a zoological garden. His idea was to have a naturalistic area for local animal species to be on display, rather than a traditional zoo with animals from all over the world. Ultimately, Arthur A. Shurtleff, a famous landscape architect, was brought in to design the zoo. He took many of Olmsted’s original ideas and expanded on them. One major change was that Shurtleff believed exotic animals should be included in the zoo. Eventually, the zoo was built and opened to the public on October 4, 1912.
When the zoo opened, it was well received by the local community. It was operated by the Boston Parks Department and was free to all. It became popular among Bostonians and tourists. A report estimated that over two million people visited the zoo in the year 1920.
After many years of success, the Franklin Park Zoo began to struggle when the Great Depression and World War 2 occurred. During the 1930s, much of the original zoo fell into disrepair due to a lack of funds and the general public needing to focus on other things. Not much thought went into zoo upkeep during these years.
Eventually, the government regained focus on the zoo in 1958 and had the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) take control of the project. The MDC quickly assessed the problems with the zoo and they brainstormed ways to make sure it would have a long and prosperous future. They developed a plan to downsize the zoo and build a fence around the new area. This fence would separate the zoo from the rest of the park and allow an entrance fee to be collected. The funds generated would then allow for the zoo to be sustainable. The zoo has been continually operating since 1958 and many renovations and additions have occurred over the years.
When the fence went up around the zoo, some of the original exhibits were not included in the new footprint. One of these exhibits was the bear cages. Each cage held a different type of bear including grizzly, black, and polar bears. The cages have been completely abandoned since 1958 and are open to the public for exploration. They can be found in the northeast corner of the park.
When exploring the Old Franklin Park Zoo Bear Dens visitors can truly imagine what the zoo was like back in the early 1900s. There is a grand staircase leading up to the old dens which are each different. In the cages, visitors can check out the old swimming pools, rock formations, and fences. There are also angled spikes all along the dens to be sure no bear climbed up and escaped. Additionally, the easternmost cage features a spectacular engraving of two bears and the city of Boston. This engraving was completed in 1912 when the original zoo opened and it has remained in spectacular shape.
- Year Built: 1912
- Year Abandoned: 1958
- Original Function: Three bear dens for bears of the original Franklin Park Zoo. The dens were built in 1912 and abandoned when the zoo was downsized in 1958.
Old Franklin Park Zoo Bear Dens Location
- Address: Playstead Road
- Town: Boston
- State: Massachusetts
- GPS: 42.311564, -71.094324
- Parking Notes: The best parking area is the Rear Parking Lot at the Franklin Park Zoo. This is located along Pierpoint Road. Parking here is free and open to the public.
- Parking Directions: HERE
- Location Directions: HERE