Jungleland Founder Leaves Town but Takes Her Memories With Her

Times Staff Writer

Eighty-year-old Kathleen Goebel rolled out of Thousand Oaks Saturday with her luggage in the trunk and enough memories to fill a fleet of moving vans.

After more than 60 years, Goebel was leaving Thousand Oaks, where she and her husband, Louis, had built Jungleland wild animal park into a major tourist attraction.

On Saturday morning, dozens of well-wishers dropped by for hugs and snapshots at a reception in her honor at the Stagecoach Inn Museum in Newbury Park.

Later, after a stop at her husband's grave, she was to leave with her daughter and grandchildren for her new home in Morgan Hill, near San Jose.

"I have mixed feelings about it," Goebel said of the move. "That will be home eventually, but this will be home for a long time," she said of Thousand Oaks.

In 1928, Kathleen married Louis Goebel and helped him build his fledgling wild animal compound. Goebel's Lion Farm, later known as Jungleland, was established to breed and train wild animals for films and circuses but it also became a popular amusement park.

By World War II, the farm had about 100 lions, as well as leopards, bears, elephants, monkeys, water buffaloes, camels, zebras and other wild animals. Set on 20 acres of now-vacant land south of the Ventura Freeway, the park was repeatedly sold and reacquired by the Goebels, who closed it and sold the animals in 1969.

The lion farm had the community's first gas stove and first telephone, and Kathleen Goebel was its first telephone operator. Over the years, she watched, none too approvingly, the transformation of Thousand Oaks from a rural village of no more than 2,000 people to a fast-growing city of 95,000.

Goebel is not only carrying away memories but also a large stockpile of physical mementos--from pieces of old fire engines to camel saddles and pedestals used in elephant acts.

Her daughter, Alma Heil, said Goebel agreed to the move only after being assured that she wouldn't have to leave anything behind.

"And believe me, she didn't," Heil said. "That was the only way I could get her to come."

In fact, Heil picked out a two-story, four-bedroom house in a new subdivision for her mother, and an even bigger house next door for herself and her husband to catch any spillover of memorabilia.

At Saturday's reception, sponsored by the Conejo Valley Historical Society, the city presented Goebel with a plaque praising the Goebels for donating land in the 1970s for a senior-citizen center. The plaque, signed by Mayor Alex T. Fiore, also saluted the lion farm as a "unique venture."

Embracing a friend at the reception, Goebel said: "If I ever get an extra bedroom empty, why, I'll have a place for you to stay."

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