Lions and Tigers and Bears … Nearby!

The story of Bird Wonderland, the Encino training facility and home of some of the biggest animal movie stars of the ‘40s and ‘50s.

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    Linda Grasso

Next time you drive down Ventura Boulevard near the intersection of Haskell, right by Valley Beth Shalom and St. Cyril church, imagine gigantic, exotic animals strolling the sidewalk. As strange as that may sound, that was indeed the case more than a half-century ago when it was the location of the most important animal and bird supplier in the movie industry. 

Bird Wonderland, formerly located at 15640 Ventura Boulevard in Encino, was owned by Coulson and Lucille Glick. Operating from their sprawling headquarters, the Glicks turned Coulson’s hobby of raising birds and training animals into a profitable enterprise with some of the most famous animal “actors” in movie history.

There was Satan, “the wrestling movie tiger.” The Sumatran beast was raised in captivity and appeared in 80 pictures. At the time, in the early ‘40s, Satan was the only known tiger that would come in contact with people and be handled by them safely. 

“Jackie the lion,” as he was known,  also lived at Bird Wonderland. It’s widely believed that Jackie inspired the famous MGM lion logo still used by the movie company. Jackie was owned by the famous lion tamer and performer Melvin Koontz and boarded at Bird Wonderland. 

As the story goes, in the ‘40s, Glick captured a load of animals in Thailand via Singapore. He then chartered a DC-4 airplane from the Pacific Overseas Airlines for $16,200 to bring three elephants, a Malaysian bear, cobras, cranes, mynahs and storks home. This flight is believed to be the first time animals were brought to the U.S. by airplane. It took two days to get across the ocean and land in Ontario, California.

The photos in this feature are part of a collection donated to the Museum of the San Fernando Valley (more on the museum and their temporary exhibit at Westfield Fashion Square on page 27) by the Glick’s niece. Joan Putney has vivid memories of visiting Bird Wonderland as a child. “I remember walking Satan the tiger up Van Nuys Boulevard on a chain when I was 12 years old,” she recalls.

Bird Wonderland, with its high profile menagerie, stayed in business until the mid-1950s.