Barnes City (1920-1927)

(1930s)* – Thomas Brothers map showing Barnes City located east of Venice, west of Culver City and south of Mar Vista.  


Historical Notes

Little-known Barnes City was once home to Al G. Barnes of the Al G. Barnes Wild Animal Circus and Zoo. Located near Venice and Mar Vista, it served as an enclave for his animals and circus folks. In 1911, Barnes was invited to Venice by Abbot Kinney to entertain those uninterested in the popular cultural programs and lectures.

Barnes quickly won over the masses, expanding his show into a touring circus with thirty elaborate railroad cars. He established the area as his base camp and winter home. However, the locals did not appreciate the noise and rowdiness, so in 1920, Barnes bought a nearby ranch and named it Barnes City.





(1924)* - Aerial view looking N/W showing the Al G. Barnes Circus, headquarters and zoo (aka Wild Animal Show) located in Barnes City. The major street running diagonally across the center of photo is Washington Blvd. McLaughlin Ave and Washington intersect at left-center.  


Historical Notes

Barnes purchased the old 120 acre Sbacha Ranch on Washington Boulevard between Venice and Culver City in November 1920. The property's shape, if facing north, resembled the outline of the state of Utah; the smaller top left portion extending north of Culver Blvd. to Washington Blvd between Kensington and east to McLaughlin. The remainder of the property, south of Culver Blvd. extended south along Kensington, then Messmer to Ballona Creek, then east to Berryman, then north to Culver, and west to McLaughlin where it joined their northern section of their ranch. Since most of the circus tents and buildings, and eventually the zoo, were located north of Culver Blvd., it is believed that the circus sold lots suitable for homes on the unused southern portion of the property.*





(1924)* - Aerial view looking East showing the entrance and layout of Al G. Barnes Circus, headquarters and zoo located in Barnes City. The major street in the foreground is Washington Blvd. The street running S/E at top of photo is Sawtelle Blvd.  


Historical Notes

The city hall of Barnes City was at 4307 Centinela, two blocks south of Washington. The two story building became the first location of Centinela Feed Store. It was torn down in 2000.

Why was there so much controversy over the incorporation of Barnes City? At the time of the vote, there were 692 voters in Barnes City, 254 of the voters were employed by the circus. It is said that Al Barnes changed his entire circus schedule on election day so that the monkeys could vote without leaving their cages. Dissatisfied homeowners demanded a new election, but the Board of Directors, hand picked by Al Barnes, refused. The citizens took their case to the Califronia Superior Court. They then circulated a petition seeking annexation to Los Angeles. Unlike Mar Vista and Venice, which joined Los Angeles for water and other services, the homeowners of Barnes City sought freedom from living in a city built around a circus, run by the circus owner, whose brother was the mayor.

In April 1927, Barnes City became the 72nd Los Angeles annexation, adding 1160 acres.*





(1920s)* – Front entrance to Al Barnes Circus, ‘Home of Tusko,the Largest Elephant in the World’, located at the corner of Washington Blvd and McLaughlin Ave.  


Historical Notes

The Zoo was a combination of a regular zoo and several freak show exhibits. It remained open even while the circus was on the road since when performing animals became too wild to handle, they were left behind at the zoo. Its collection of 4000 animals included many rare animals like Saddleback Tapirs and Onas.

The zoo exhibited 'Tusko', a seven-ton elephant that stood 12 foot, 8 inch high. It broke loose the year before the zoo opened, and destroyed a small town in Washington. In November 1924, they removed its tusks after the enraged elephant tried to kill its keeper. It was chained down, but even if it broke loose, it was still restrained by 9-foot-high iron bars set in concrete. Its sheer strength was apparent by the bent bars on one side of the enclosure. They also exhibited another elephant named Barney.






(1926)* - A bear poses for the camera next to an early model Chevrolet at Barnes Zoo in Culver City. Photo by Dick Whittington  


Historical Notes

Despite his best efforts, the masses did not like sharing their neighborhoods with Barnes and what was sometimes referred to as “Monkeyville.” They managed to finally force the circus to pull up its stakes and re-locate to Baldwin Park. Al G. Barnes sold the land to a developer in 1927 and the entire circus would later be sold to American Circus Corporation for $1 Million.*

In April 1927, Barnes City became the 72nd Los Angeles annexation, adding 1160 acres. The location of Al Barnes Circus and Zoo, though, became part of Culver City.



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