Several years ago, the DWP and the Los Angeles Department Of Parks And Recreation, along with individual sponsors like LAX the Hollywood Bowl, decided to set up a Holiday light spectacular. The festival of Lights decorated about a half a mile of Crystal Springs Drive in Griffith Park, starting from the Rangers Station at Crystal Springs baseball diamond, and concluding at the LA Zoo parking lot. It was free, and the line of cars stretching from the freeway exit to the end of the display could take you hours. I always preferred to park at the Zoo and then walk the light festival round-trip with my gal and my pit bull.
The annual display was closed down after 2009, supposedly to be resurrected upon the completion of an underground reservoir being built close to the zoo. But for many reasons that I won’t go into, the lights never returned, even after the reservoir was completed. It has truly been missed. I have seen more sophisticated light sculptures, but the lights were important to Angelenos who would normally have to drive to Pasadena or Seal Beach to see large Christmas displays.
Finally, the L.A. Zoo grabbed the reigns to continue the tradition with Zoo Lights At Night, and it couldn’t be more welcome than at a time when people’s emotions are going from happy to stressed out. From now until January 3rd, the Zoo is emblazoned with phantasmagorical displays of optic sculptures, trippy looking animal animations, and a water and light show akin to Disney’s World Of Color. Even on a smaller scale, it still made most everyone hoot and holler with delight.
The park practically comes alive with electric radiance from the get go, with swarms of large globes in the bushes and a tree filled with about thirty disco balls. Some lights are like curtains, some are like canopies, and many are in the shape of animals (of course). My favorite displays were several soft sculptures of elephants that serve as the basis for psychedelic projections reminiscent of Dumbo’s Pink Elephants On Parade. The mound from which the Meerkats usually pop in and out during the day is now festooned with glowing meerkat counterparts standing at attention or tumbling into the tree tops. There is an overhead laser show that is nice, and a curious collection of frog sculptures made from illuminated plastic water bottles that chirp and croak in synch to traditional Christmas tunes. For those of you who still remember the old light sculptures from the Festival of Lights, the zoo has obtained a few of them, and you will recognize them instantly. They have a completely different style than the rest of the light displays.
Most of the animals are tucked away for the night, and trails leading to them are blocked off to the public, which is kind of disappointing. But they also decorated some access roads not normally available to the public, so there is still plenty to see without feeling slighted. The animals you are allowed to see are housed in two buildings called The Lair and The Desert Lair, which display some nominal UV effects. Here, the lights take a backseat to the Giant Chinese Salamander and the many other varieties of reptiles and invertebrates. It gets really packed in there. If you go through the two buildings and make a left, you will be in front of the Light and Water show. There is about a twenty minute gap between shows. Make a right, and it will lead you to Santa, but check your map because it’s easy to get turned around.
A word to the wise — the place will be packed, and if you buy your tickets there, you could be waiting in a long line to buy tickets and then another long line for entry in half hour shifts. Your best bet is to buy your tickets online ($13.00) for the time you want, and bypass the ticket line. There are also discounts for people who take the early time slots starting at 6:00 pm, and those taking later entry at 9:00 pm and 9:30 pm (last entry). You are free to wander the park and enjoy the lights until 11:00 pm.
It’s safe to say that almost everyone had a great time, save for one person. Near the end of the light displays is the Zoo’s excellent carousel, with a wide array of handcrafted animals and horses. A solitary woman was scowling while she sat in one of the motionless carriage seats that was almost completely enveloped in a perfect brown sphere. To the rear of the sphere on the floor was a dung beetle pushing it along. A poor, grumpy lady, just sitting in a ball of dung. I certainly hope nothing serious was wrong at the time. She was probably just watching her kids riding the monkeys ahead of her, but it sure made us giggle to ourselves.
One of the nicest aspects to the holiday event was that the Christmas theme was not overdone. There was plenty of holiday cheer, but almost as many of the displays were just artistic and fantasy-like in nature, with no purpose in mind other than to dazzle the eye and cheer the soul.
Photos by Amber Clark and Jamie Pham