Guy Phinney and other developers had bought the clear-cut land in the 1880s and began promoting home sales. Phinney built a private park and menagerie on his "Woodland Park" estate and established a streetcar line from Fremont to the park's entrance off N 50th Street.
Phinney died in 1893, and his widow Nellie tried to keep up the property but finally sold it to the City of Seattle in 1899 for $100,000.
The zoo opened with additional animals acquired from the Leschi Park menagerie. In 1910, the Olmsted brothers designed very cramped bear pits and cages.
These inhumane quarters were eventually done away with, and in 1976 zoo director David Hancocks worked with architects from Jones & Jones to develop a radical new plan for presenting animals in spacious exhibits emulating their natural habitats, which have since won major awards and set a new standard for zoos around the world