The first Detroit Zoo opened in 1883 on Michigan and Trumbull Avenues, across from the current site of Tiger Stadium. A circus had arrived in town and went broke. Luther Beecher, a leading Detroit citizen and capitalist, financed the purchase of the circus animals and erected a building for their display called the Detroit Zoological Garden. The zoo closed the following year and the building converted into a horse auction.
The Detroit Zoological Society was founded in 1911 but it was not until 1924 that the zoo became a reality. The zoo's official opening was August 1, 1928 and acting Mayor John C. Nagel was to speak at the event. Running late, Nagel parked in back of the bear dens and as he came rushing around the front, Morris, a polar bear, leaped from his moat and came face to face with Nagel. Not aware how precarious his situation was, Nagel stuck out his hand and walked toward the polar bear joking, "He's the reception committee." The keepers rushed the bear and forced him back into the moat, leaving the mayor uninjured.
1956: Detroit zoo moved to its current home, Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak
1956: Belle island became Belle Isle Children's Zoo.
1980's: renovated and reopened as Safariland.
2002: closed for visitors.