This is a historical feature and not a critique on the conditions in Tampa's early zoos or their treatment of animals.

Back in the time of these zoos, the purpose of the exhibits was mainly to confine the animal and entertain the public.  Enclosures were often just small, concrete-floor cages built with little or no regard for the animals' instinctual behavior and minimal expenditures could not provide a healthy natural habitat. Often there was no secondary barrier to keep the public at a safe distance. Neglect, unsanitary conditions, and lack of experienced, professional medical attention were typical, as well as abuse by visitors. There was seldom any effort to cater to the animals' mental/emotional well-being and performing animals were sometimes trained using negative reinforcement, such as inflicting pain.


TampaPix is by no means an authority on the subject. If you wish to learn  about zoos from experts, read Thomas French's "A Zoo Story" and visit J. D. "Doug" Porter's blog.  Porter's long career was everything from animal keeper to zoo director, and he is an excellent author.  He was superintendent at Lowry Park Zoo from May 1984 to May 1988. 

This is not to say that zookeepers were ruthless abusers and didn't care for their animals.  Many considered their animals as their pets and treated them as such. 

While working for the City of Tampa Parks Department, Porter guided the aging zoo, once identified nationally as "the worst zoo in America," through a complete renovation and achieved the institution's first AZA Accreditation.  He  also  arranged  and  organized  the  two  main  sources of funding to privatize the new zoo.

(J. D. Porter career info from LinkedIn)

This site disapproves of and detests any form of mistreatment of animals.




Sumter L. Lowry (Sr.) was born in 1861 in York, South Carolina, a son of a Confederate Army surgeon. He studied pharmacology at South Carolina Medical School College and worked as a druggist before moving to Palatka, Fla. in 1888. There he had a pharmacy and general store before moving to Tampa in 1894.

But long before the park, zoo and the neighborhoods were named for him, Dr. Sumter L. Lowry built his house in 1895 in South Tampa. It was a clapboard house with Queen Anne elements, and a short distance from Hillsborough Bay in Hyde Park North.

In Tampa, Dr. Lowry had great success in the insurance business, becoming the Manager of Reliance Life Insurance Company and the Director of Gulf Life Insurance Company. He developed a keen interest in public service when the city adopted the commission form of government.  Lowry served three consecutive terms as a Commissioner starting in 1922. (Jan. 3, 1922-Jan. 24, 1928.)


The Lowry house at 333 S. Plant Ave.
Photo courtesy of


Dr. Lowry was instrumental in many public improvements during his six years on the commission,  He played a key role in the purchase and installation of the city waterworks and port improvements, he helped build Municipal Hospital on Davis Islands (now Tampa General), he had roles in the rehabilitation of the Tampa Bay Hotel (now University of Tampa) and the construction of five bridges.  Lowry also raised funds to build downtown's St. Andrew's Episcopal Church and was a founder of St. John's Episcopal Church in Old Hyde Park.  When the Gandy Bridge was completed in the fall of 1924, Lowry represented the City of Tampa with Mayor-Commissioner Perry G. Wall at the opening ceremony.

Today, two neighborhoods carry his name and the Lowry House is home to law offices at 333 S Plant Ave.

But WHY was Lowry Park named for him?



This is what you've probably heard about how Lowry Park came to be and why it was so named.  The story is found almost everywhere the park's beginnings are described...


In 1918, City Commissioner Dr. Sumter Lowry urged the city of Tampa to buy land north of Sligh Avenue at North Blvd. and dedicate it for use as a public park.   In 1925, after years of hard work, it became a reality, and the park was later named in Lowry's honor.


But Lowry wasn't a City Commissioner in 1918, nor did he even hold any position in city government at this time.  In fact, the commission form of city government was not adopted until a Nov. 1921 election and he wasn't a commissioner until that form of government started on Jan. 3, 1922.

Some early variations of this story say he donated the land for the purpose of building a city park. This one below confuses Dr. Lowry (Sr.) with his son, Gen. Lowry (Jr.) and credits him with donating the land.  This was said in a public speech by a direct descendant of Lowry:


Lt. Gen. Sumter Lowry, a city official in the parcels of land together and donated it to the city to create a park.



None of the above really happened.


In late January of 1918, the Tampa City Council put aside rules and pushed an ordinance through to purchase 105 acres of land from Eben E. Cone for $30,000.  The proposition wasn't discussed at this meeting which was the third reading of the proposition, nor any suggestion made that the ordinance be handled under the current rules of procedure.  The only Councilman who opposed the purchase was Ramon Sierra who voted "No" on each motion.

At this time (Jun. 6, 1916 – Jun. 10, 1920), the City Council consisted of President Fred W. Ball, James B. Anderson, James E. Etzler, John R. Fielding, G. T. Henderson, Henry P. Kennedy, Henry R. Lightfoot, Erwin R. Murray, Pedro G. Ramos, Dr. David E. Saxton, and Ramon Sierra, Jr. (An election was held on Jun. 4, 1918 and all members were reelected with no changes.)  The mayor was Donald B. McKay.

The members of the Cemetery Committee consisted of Councilmen J. E. Etzler, P. G. Ramos, and Henry P. Lightfoot.

The land purchased was located south of Sulphur Springs, on the west bank of the river directly across from Dr. Goldstein's pool and was to be used as a new City cemetery site.  It was offered for sale to the city a week before the above described meeting.

But there were no decent roads from Tampa to this "remote" area. The last paragraph of the article below describes just how difficult it was to reach the property.



The Times' lack of punctuation causes ambiguity in the legal description, and they include an extra measurement which causes the last two tracts to refer to the same tract of land.  By removing the extra "N½" in the third tract ("B" on the map) and adding parentheses so that the 2nd and 3rd tracts both refer to the SE¼ of Section 26, the three tracts combine to form present-day Lowry Park which lies west of North Blvd and north of Sligh Avenue. 


The Tampa Tribune article of the same day had different errors in the legal description, but gave a more detailed description of the land in section 25, that which lies between the river and North Blvd. today.  North Blvd. is built on the border between sections 24 and 25.

The corrected tract descriptions are in the same order provided in the article:

Purple square:  The SE quarter of Sec. 26.

A=SE¼ of SE¼ of SEC 26, T28S, R18E.
C=S½ of N½ of NE¼ of SE¼ of SEC 26, T28S, R18E.
of NE¼ of SE¼ of SEC 26, T28S, R18E.

For the land along the river bank in the adjoining Section 25, the southern boundary is 512 feet north of the corner of today's Sligh Ave. & North Blvd., and the northern boundary is 1,686 feet north of the southern boundary.



The choice of property didn't sit well with a lot of people. Rumors that Cone had upped the price when the City expressed interest were abundant. On Jan. 25, the Tribune published a letter from G. Goldstein who wrote them to say that the cemetery committee was trying to put something over on the people of Tampa, stating that a price of less than what the City paid had already been turned down by a previous prospective buyer. Not only was the site inaccessible, it was considered not suited for a cemetery, being mostly low land and wet, more suitable for truck farming.   He ends by hoping the mayor will veto this proposition, comparing it to former foolish propositions.




The Tribune was a morning paper, the Times was an evening paper, which worked out well for Cone. He said after he read Goldstein's letter, he had a talk with him, and said Goldstein was mistaken about the description of the land, and that the flooded land was only a small strip near the river.


More talk about the inaccessibility of the site was published on Jan. 26 in the Times, with suggestions on various routes that could be improved. There was no North Blvd. here at this time.  Notice "Armina Ave." the correct original spelling of "Armenia." The article ends with a hope that this purchase will speed up progress on a nice new river boulevard.



Feb. 1, 1918 - J.A. Bedingfield wrote the Tribune to set the record straight because the mayor was told that Bedingfield had previously offered the City his land at $100 per acre.  Bedingfield says that his offer was for 160 acres NORTH of the Cone property, and that property in the immediate area was selling for a much higher figure. He basically closes with what politely means "keep me out of this mess."



Back during his 1916 mayoral campaign for his third term, D . B . McKay had emphasized his opposition to the commission form of government. He argued that the existing system provided better representation for all sectors of the population and that the commission form would result in limited focus of powers.  McKay was elected to a 4-year mayoral term; his 3rd consecutive term as mayor. 

With the ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920, giving women the right to vote, Tampa women including Kate Jackson, Julia Norris, and Frances Macfarlane, who had long been involved in civic affairs, mobilized in support of a pro-commission charter. Proponents for the Commission-Manager system believed that this structure of government would enable the City to conduct municipal affairs in a more direct and business-like manner.

It took a month for a board of 15 selected businessmen to carefully come up with and draft a charter they thought would be approved by the voters.

The voters approved adoption of the commission-manager system with their vote for the new City Charter on Oct. 19 , 1920. This new form of government, which elected a mayor who served as a commissioner, and four more commissioners who, in turn, appoint a City Manager. The mayor essentially became a figurehead with no more administrative power than the commissioners had. The City Manager served as the administrative head of the municipal government.   

The Tribune, which was a huge supporter of the new charter, even used their special red ink for the headline.
However, on the day previous to the election, they boldly predicted a 2 to 1 margin of victory.


On Dec. 7, 1920, Tampa voters went to the polls for the SEVENTH time, this time to vote for the Mayor/Commissioner and how long the other four candidates for commissioner would serve.  These five were elected in a Nov. 15 primary and ran unopposed in the Dec. 7 election.

In Jan. 1921, Charles H. Brown, the 40th mayor of Tampa, had the distinction of being the first mayor of Tampa to serve under the commission form of government.  He served from Jan. 4, 1921 to Jan. 8, 1924.  (City of Tampa Past Mayors - Charles H. Brown)

Perry G. Wall, having won the next election, became the next mayor to serve under this system of government in Jan. 1924.

Dr. Sumter Lowry, a rigorous proponent of the commissioner form of government, was elected to a seat on the Commission in 1922.


Mayor Charles H. Brown
Portrait from "Men of the South."




In late Feb. 1924, the city commissioners, which included Dr. Lowry, took a trek out to see the cemetery site for the first time.  SIX YEARS had passed since the land's purchase by the previous administration, and still nothing had been done with the land known as the "Cemetery Site."   

After viewing the site, Lowry considered it to be "excellently adapted for use as a cemetery" and that it had been  "...a good purchase for the City.  As a matter of fact the property could now be sold for a handsome profit above its cost to the city.

This article incorrectly states the land was purchased in 1919.




In the summer of 1924, the "City fathers" budgeted $10k to develop the "Riverside cemetery."  Two thousand dollars was set aside to build a combination garage/office building.  Lowry was ready to hire a competent landscape artist so lots could go on sale soon.



The City Engineer, R. D. Martin, made a preliminary investigation of the property and said it was better suited for fishing. Ten acres of land was already submerged, and much of the surrounding area suffered from water just 2 to 4 feet below ground level. So the City Commission decided to have a soil survey done before proceeding to beautify the landscape.


The next mention of the cemetery site or soil survey thereof was printed in the Nov. 4, 1924 Times and Nov. 5 Tribune.  These covered the discussions that took place on the previous day's City Commissioners' meeting. The property is "so poorly drained that in some portions water is found four feet under the surface...the cemetery is unfit for burial purposes in many places."

The matter was to be discussed at the next meeting of the commissioners but no such article describing that meeting has been found where this was discussed.


Seventeen acres of land north of Floribraska Ave, between Nebraska Ave & Florida Ave, was purchased for conversion to a public park in early 1925 at a purchase price of $41,099. 

Improvements began in late March of that year with plans to convert Robles Pond into a lake by building a retaining wall.  The park was named Adams Park in honor of City Commissioner W. A. Adams.

**Joseph Robles (pronounced -bless) never had and never used a middle name.  In an era when newspapers rarely used a person's first name and instead went by men's first two initials and last name, in his lifetime Joseph Robles always appears as J. Robles, Joe Robles or Joseph Robles.  Even his newspaper ads did not use a middle name or middle initial. His obituary does not attribute a middle name or initial. 

 Joseph PAUL Robles was his son, and he wasn't a junior. It was only in the years after Joe Robles' death that "Paul" crept in by newspaper writers who assumed too much.  And with that, Joseph Paul Robles was turned into Joseph P. Robles, Jr.  Even Tampa historians of the mid-1900s make the same mistake.  However, Joe Robles' son, Joseph Paul Robles, did have a son named Joseph Paul Robles, Jr.  This junior was Joe Robles' grandson.

See The Robles Family at   





On Apr. 1, 1925, the Tribune announced that on Mar. 31, the former cemetery site was named Lowry Park in honor of City Commissioner Sumter L. Lowry Sr., due to his efforts in "consummation of arrangements for acquiring the land for park purposes.

The term "acquiring" is misleading, because the land had already been acquired seven years earlier.  Perhaps Lowry had some active role in the process of repurposing its use from cemetery to public park use.  Maybe he came up with the idea and suggested a preliminary plan for park use.  But none of these efforts could be found in news articles concerning City Commissioner meetings from early Nov. 1924 to this point.

At the dedication announcement, Lowry was quoted as saying, "This is the greatest honor ever conferred on me, I have done nothing to earn it..." 

Lowry may have been telling the literal truth.


Tampa Mayor Perry G. Wall succeeded Charles Brown in Jan. 1924 as Tampa's 2nd mayor under city commissioner government.

"Therefore, be it resolved, that in recognition of efforts put forth by Mr. Lowry to secure for the people of Tampa and visitors a site to be used for public park purposes, the land above described [is] to be known always as Lowry Park."




In the years since 1925, the Lowry myth developed.  By 1959, in the midst of racial discrimination and ensuing push for integration at Tampa's city parks, the press already thought the Lowry family had donated the land for the park.  The "ardent champion of segregation and states rights" was describing Gen. Sumter Lowry, JR.


In 1986, when Lowry Park Zoo was undergoing its $20 million renovation, Tampa Bay magazine printed a large article, a portion of which consisted of these comments by Sally Lowry Baldwin, granddaughter of Sumter L. Lowry Jr. (the National Guard Lt. General.)

"My grandfather, Lt. Gen. Sumter Lowry, a city official in the 1920s, developed the idea of having green space in Tampa.  He got parcels of land together to create the green space and donated it to the city." 
Tampa Bay Magazine, Oct/Nov. 1986 at Google Books

Ms. Baldwin is evidently is confusing her grandfather, Lt. Gen. Sumter Lowry Jr., with her great-grandfather, City Commissioner Dr. Sumter L. Lowry (Sr.) .  Yes, he was in favor of improving Tampa's parks "in a big way, to include golf courses and a municipal zoo, but "green space" was nothing new to Tampa in the 1920s, they called them "parks."

Lowry Jr. was born in 1893, graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1914, pursued a military career with the National Guard, saw active duty in  WW1,  became a Lt. General in the 1930s and served in WW2. 

He wasn't a city official in the 1920s, he was the president of the Victory Life Insurance Company.  And as you have just learned so far, it was his father, Dr. Lowry (Sr.) who was the city official, and he didn't get "parcels of land together," nor did he own or donate parcels of land that became Lowry Park.  It already belonged to the City in 1918 as one big 105 acre tract.

(Gen. Lowry's bio, as well as the author V. Almeida's concept of Sheena's history, is discussed on the breakout page "Sheena, the Baby Elephant.")




Ebenezer Elbert Cone, seller of the property that became Lowry Park, died in 1927 in Ft. Myers from an accidental shooting.




In August 1925, Dr. Lowry made his bid for re-election to the Board of City Commissioners, entering the race for two available seats for five candidates.  Lowry laid out his platform...

  • Finish all the incomplete public works currently in progress in the city.

  • Provide electric light, water, sewerage, sanitation, fire and police protection to all the areas that had just been annexed by the city.  (Ft. Brooke, West Tampa & Ybor to name a few.)

  • More bridges across the river, starting with one at Michigan Ave. into West Tampa  (Now called Columbus Drive) and opening closed streets.

  • He claims that the city spent "some ten millions of dollars" in the past four years while he was city commissioner, and every dollar was well-spent.

  • He favored a "white way" to Ballast Point, which is what streets brightly-lit with electric lights were then called.

  • And finally, he was in favor of improving Tampa's parks "in a big way, to include golf courses and a municipal zoo.


The next day, Lowry ran an ad which included his above comments as the narrative on the left, with the list seen below positioned in one long column on the right.  It has been rearranged into three columns to make better use of space here.  He first presents the fourteen points of his previous campaign platform, then proceeds to show how every one of them, except for the last one, have been accomplished are are in progress.

Sumter Lowry and James McCants both ran for re-election unopposed for City Commissioner in the Nov. 3, 1925 election.



The City of Tampa advertised for bids on clearing the first 33 acres of Lowry Park, marking the beginning of "actual work" on the park system.

City commissioners made appropriation to improve Lowry, Barritt, and Adams parks, with Lowry being the largest by far.

Barritt Park was located on the Hillsborough River where the city waterworks was being built.  Adams Park was the former land of Joe Robles, where a lake was being dredged and a playground laid out.




Click the ad to see it larger.

Regarded as the "father of the municipal waterworks," W. J. Barritt was born in London, England in 1879 and immigrated to the United States at a young age. His family settled in Florida in the 1880s and cultivated an orange grove near Sanford. They lost the grove due to a harsh freeze during the winter of 1895 and they came to Tampa soon afterward. Barritt then started a dairy business at age 19.  His success in the dairy business led to his establishment of the Poinsettia Dairy just west of the Tampa Bay Hotel. In 1903, it became the first distributor of bottled milk in Tampa. Barritt began producing ice cream in 1910, and Poinsettia Dairy went on to become one of the largest dairy companies in the state of Florida. After it was bought out by Borden, Barritt served as Chairman of the Board of Directors until his death. On Tampa’s City Council Barritt was on the Appeals and Grievances Committee, the Finance Committee, and the Police Department Committee. In 1921, when Tampa switched to a Commission-Manager form of government, he served three consecutive terms as Mayor-Commissioner Pro Tempore. Because of his great efforts to establish Tampa's waterworks on the Hillsborough River, a park was created around the facility and named for him.  He died on March 9, 1944.   Read his Mar. 10, 1944 obituary in the Tampa Times.



Plans for a zoo at Lowry Park were announced in mid-October 1927 with Commissioner Lowry supervising.  A house for eight monkeys was under construction and negotiations for the monkeys were being made with companies dealing in wild animals and owners of private zoos.  The monkeys were expected to be purchased within the next two weeks.

Plans were in place to purchase tropical birds and deer.  Supt. of Parks Ralph B. True was supervising the development.



The Tribune had the same basic story but included the status of the bird cage.


The Tribune took the opportunity to take shots at the commissioners.






Hurricane McKay-Bartlett is headed towards Lowry Park and may make parkfall within the next 30 days.  Please read this bulletin carefully, your zoo will depend on it.



Nothing else was published about progress of the Lowry Park zoo effort for the rest of the year 1927 as the subject in the news turned to politics when a new city charter was to be put to a vote on Dec. 6, 1927.    

In the current system of mayor/commissioner city government, the board of city commissioners from Jan. 8, 1924 to Jan. 3, 1928 consisted of: Mayor/Commissioner Perry G. Wall,  Mayor pro tempore/Commissioner William James Barritt, Commissioners William A. Adams, Dr. Sumter Lowry, and James McCants.

In December 1927 there was a major push to continue with this commission form of government, under which Tampa was governed during this current administration of Perry Wall, and his predecessor, Charles Brown.  A huge full-page ad was published in the Tribune showing all the accomplishments of the commission form of government, and the pitfalls of returning to a mayor/city council form of government, urging voters to vote "NO" on the new charter.


The Tampa Times was quick to take a shot at the Tribune ad.  The Times was owned by D. B. McKay.


THE TAMPA TRIBUNE - Dec. 7, 1927

THE TAMPA TIMES - Dec. 7, 1927

The new charter was approved by Tampa voters by a more than 3 to 1 margin, and the mayor/city council system of government that was in effect during D. B. McKay's three terms from 1910 to 1920 would return when the new charter took effect on Jan. 25, 1928.  But there was still a mayoral election to be held on Dec. 27.

This article gives a good description of the changes the new charter would make.  It also shows the vote counts for each district.
Click the article to read it all.

With the new charter being voted for on the 6th, but the election for government offices on the 27th, just who ran for what office depended on the outcome of the charter election.  *Once again, "nominated" is used to mean "elected."



With the passing of the new charter, the city commissioners would be abolished on Jan. 25, 1928, and several of them were furious about statements McKay had made during the charter campaign, and his current campaign for mayor.


It seems McKay made some allegations that the city commissioners had failed to perform and publish an annual audit of the city's finances for this year as was required by the current city charter, and that Tampa was on the verge of bankruptcy, stating that the next mayor would virtually serve as receiver for Tampa's bankruptcy. 

Commissioner Lowry was especially incensed, stating "This man has lambasted us for four years, but his latest outburst is more than I can bear.  He should be made to put up or shut up.  Even if he believes Tampa is bankrupt, he has no right to broadcast his views at a time when we are in the midst of economic adjustment."  He went on to compare McKay to Moses--"We are assailed by a Moses--Mr. Moses McKay--who promises to lead us out of the wilderness.  All right, let's have 'Moses' come before the commission and tell us how he proposes to do it.."  He went on and on to the Tribune about it.  The commissioners even passed a resolution declaring their opinions (as facts) about McKay's actions.


Current city commissioner James McCants, who had announced his intention to run for mayor in the Dec. 27 election, announced on Dec. 15 he did not wish to qualify.  His assessment of the public opinion was that it would have been hopeless for him to run.  And so the deadline of the 15th came and went, with McCants intentionally failing to qualify, along with 36 other men who had  announced their intention to run.  And so McKay ran unopposed.


A Cemetery Site--Again.

With the end of commissioner city government looming in the coming month, the topic of a new city cemetery once again came to the forefront during last month of Mayor Wall's administration.  At the upcoming city commissioner meeting, Lowry would urge Mayor Wall to purchase a municipal cemetery, because the two present ones, Woodlawn and Oaklawn, were completely filled, and the only burial plots available in Tampa were privately owned and expensive.  Lowry told the Tribune, "The city should purchase a new cemetery to lower the high cost of dying."  He spoke of a mother whose son was killed in an auto accident, saying "she paid $250* for a piece of ground large enough to bury her boy." 

Lowry stated that funds were available to buy a cemetery not costing more than $30,000**.  Lowry approached the commissioners back when the new charter was passed in early December, and at that time the others were against the purchase.  Lowry now was acting on reports that the incoming administration might try to convert Lowry park into a municipal cemetery, even though drill tests showed the ground was saturated and unsuitable for burial.

*Two hundred and fifty dollars in 1927 would be like $3,806 to us today.
**Thirty thousand dollars in 1927 would be like $456,684 to us today.
    (U.S. Inflation Calculator.)


There were also "reliable reports current in city hall for more than a week that the new administration, headed by Mayor McKay, will undoubtedly rename Barritt and Adams parks in honor of Confederate generals and that one would be named Forrest park, as a tribute to General Forrest, and the other will be either Lee or Jackson park.

Mayor Perry Wall's response to Lowry's suggestion was printed on Dec. 17 in the Tampa Times.  Wall's stance was that the city would not buy a cemetery site before the end of his administration .  "I have no disposition to go into the purchase of a cemetery at the end of my administration, unless it can be proven to my satisfaction that the necessity for purchasing it at this time is absolutely imperative and that the price for which it is offered is particularly attractive."  The article ends with the Tribune saying "Dr. Lowry has agitated the purchase of a piece of land ever since it was learned that Lowry park, originally bought for that purpose, was unsuited as a burial ground...the land was too low and seepage of water was too close to the surface."





Of the "lame-duck" city commissioners,  two of the five stayed on to the bitter end--Jan. 24, 1928, as the new charter would take effect the next day when twelve elected city councilmen (or representatives as they were called) would take their seats.   So on Jan. 3, 1928,  with the city still under commissioner form of government, commissioners McCants and Lowry stayed on, and were joined by the new administration of D. B. McKay as Mayor/Commissioner, T. N Henderson (Mayor Commissioner pro tempore,), and Dr. C. W. Bartlett.




The Tribune printed a fair and honest account of what had transpired, stating "The Tribune bespeaks for the new regime the fullest opportunity to justify itself, without captious criticism or factional ill-feeling or resentment....If it does not prove satisfactory, the people will have the same right to abolish it that they had to abolish the commission form.  After months of agitation, unrest and hostility, "let's have an end of disturbance , and all get together for a year of constructive work for the advancement and prosperity of Tampa."

Rumors persisted that Lowry Park, Barritt Park, and Adams Park would be renamed for Confederate generals, or one of them for McKay.



The temporary City Commissioners (in effect Jan. 3 through Jan. 24) consisting of holdovers Lowry and McCants, with the three new ones T.N. Henderson, C. W. Bartlett, and D. B. McKay as Mayor/Commissioner,  met on Jan. 10 to review bills that Lowry had submitted for zoo-related purchases on December 31, 1927.  He had turned them in to the new city manager for payment who in turn questioned the legality of his purchases so turned them over to the commissioners for review. 

One issue at hand was whether Lowry had the authority to make these purchases without any knowledge or involvement by the Board of Parks, which was supposed to recommend and make the purchases according to lowest bid.

Another issue was that any purchase over $300 must be put up for bids to determine the vendor.  Lowry had separate individual invoices for animals and materials for the zoo, each invoice $300 or less.  Some were multiple invoices from the same seller.  They were clearly broken up in separate invoices to avoid having to go through a bidding process for the animals.  Commissioner Bartlett snapped back at Lowry with "If we followed such a precedent as that we could have financed the city hospital in $300 batches!"

Another issue was that the purchases showed the approval of then City Manager Lesley Brown on his last day in office.  Was the City legally bound to pay the bills, to keep what had already been delivered, and forced to accept what had not yet been delivered?  All this was a matter that would be left to City Attorney Karl Whitaker.

No doubt McKay had in mind the resolution passed by the previous board of commissioners rebuking McKay's actions during the campaign, as well as Lowry's bold statements about him such as calling him "Moses McKay" and "This man has lambasted us for four years" and "it's time for him to put up or shut up."



In 1928, $628 was like $9,727 to us today.

Purchases were made from a pet shop on the same day totaling $478 but they were divided into two invoices, one for $287.50 and the other for $190.



Upon the recommendation of city attorney Karl Whitaker, the city commission decided to not pay the bills Lowry had turned in for payment. Whitaker's opinion was that the purchases had not been authorized properly by the old commission, the park board or the purchasing department. 

Commissioner Bartlett was the most aggressive of those at the meeting, with him and Lowry clashing a time or two.  McKay ran a close 2nd.  Lowry said he thought that the park board approved of the buying of the animals, "....and if you go ahead and tear up this zoo just to discredit the old commission, than I'll have nothing to say.  I was just carrying out one of the policies of the commission.  We always did that."  But later he says the park board has never met.  He said Mr. Adams and Mr. Barritt both had charge of beautifying their parks.  "What I did was done in good faith.  I didn't think I had exceeded my authority.  I knew I could not purchase more than $300 without bids, but it has always been a policy for each commissioner to look after his own park."  At this point, McKay asked "Is this a matter of record.  Is it in the minutes?"  Lowry said "I don't know." 

Bartlett began his attack by asking if they had a park board, which he already knew the answer was yes, but clearly wanted to catch Lowry in a trap. He then asked Lowry, "What is it for?"  Lowry answered "To beautify the parks, I suppose.  But I don't think it has ever had a meeting."  Bartlett said he wasn't against having a zoo, but questioned if the city had a right to get one this way.  He told Lowry "Well, you exceeded your authority, it was the  park board that should have decided to buy the animals."  Bartlett claimed that if he followed the same logic of buying in under $300 purchases, he could have bought the police chief a Cadillac, one part at a time.


READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE (When it opens, click it again to zoom in.)

In the continuation of this article, among other statements, Lowry says "Well it's too small a matter for me to argue, it is simply what this commission has been doing for the past seven years.  The city manager has made many purchases of this sort.  Whitaker answered "But the city manager had no such authority."  Lowry then said "Anyway, that's the way we did it and that's what you will do, too."

This last statement by Lowry seemed to anger Mayor McKay, who jumped in stating "If I can prevent it, this commission will do NO SUCH THING.  I'm not opposed to having a zoo, but I believe this is an irregular proposition.  No authority is shown in the minutes, and this letter you have from the committee of the whole says nothing about this proposition.  What we're trying to do is determine the proper thing to do...I am going to insist that every transaction of this commission be regular."


Dr. Charles William Bartlett died of a second heart attack on May 28, 1929 at his home in Tampa; he was 59. Bartlett was born in1870 on his grandfather’s plantation in Sagua la Grande, Cuba.  His father had gone there to manage the plantation. Charles studied medicine at the University of Maryland and received his M.D. in 1893. In 1895, he moved to Tampa and opened a medical practice. He served on the Florida State Board of Health representing Hillsborough County and also became the Assistant Health Officer of South Florida. His son, Dr. Charles William Bartlett, Jr., followed in his footsteps and became Tampa’s City Physician.

Read his May 30, 1929 obituary in the Tampa Tribune.   Some info from "Tampa's City Council and Centennial Celebration of Old City Hall"   (Don't believe everything you read in it about old City Hall, especially about the clock, "Hortense."  Get the truth here at Tampapix.)

Commissioners McCants and Henderson were more sympathetic, with McCants stating that Dr. Lowry had been punished enough by what the other commissioners had said, in view of the policy of the old commission.  Henderson said, "I don't want to put myself in the position of trying to embarrass the men who were on the commission.  If the commissioners and the city manager knew about it, I believe it was done in good faith." 

McKay got in one more punch, "Did you ever ask your attorney for an opinion?" Lowry said "No, I guess not."

Henderson asked the others to accept Dr. Lowry's explanation, and said "Let's not do any spite work.  If the thing was wrong, let's take Dr. Lowry's word that he acted in good faith."

With that, a motion was made to approve Whitaker's opinion and not pay the bills, to accept Lowry's explanation, and to convey the matter to City Manager Davis to take up the matter with the park board.

"And that ended the "fight" for the monkeys."


With a 10 to 2 vote, the city board of representatives changed the name of Adams Park to Joseph Robles Park, "in honor of one of the city's pioneers and father of Circuit Judge Francis Marion Robles." (The land was originally the homestead of Joseph Robles.)  The park was originally named for City Commissioner W. A. Adams who was a member of the board during the previous administration (of Mayor Perry Wall.)  The Tribune took this action to mean that the two other parks would be renamed, but they never were. 

Strongly against the renaming was Rep. Campbell, not that he had anything against Robles, but because he was vehemently against naming ANYTHING for men.  He claimed it would be more fitting to build a monument to Robles, stating "I am sick and tired and fed up in naming anything for citizens."  Rep. Frazier said the move was no reflection on Adams' character or reputation, but rather the announcement of a policy opposed to naming public improvements after living citizens.  He further stated that the Federal and State governments use the same policy.  Campbell closed with "What assurance do we have that the park will not be renamed in four years when another administration comes into power?"  But the question was not answered and the resolution was adopted.

*Feb. 14, 1847 was the birthday of Joe Robles' son, Joseph Paul Robles.  Joseph P. Robles was NOT a "Jr." because his father had no middle name.

Read about the life of Joseph Robles and his family, along with information about his land patents, here at TampaPix.



Born in Georgia on February 13, 1871, William A. Adams worked on his family’s farm before coming to Tampa in the 1890s. He became a bookkeeper for the Tampa Lumber Company and later purchased the Tampa Grocery Company. Adams would go on to establish his own wholesale grocery and he enjoyed much success in this venture. He served three consecutive terms as a Commissioner during the seven years that the City of Tampa had a Commission-Manager form of government and many public improvements were made during this time. Adams served as a steward in the First Methodist Church for more than fifty years. He died in Tampa on December 22, 1950.  Read his Dec. 23, 1950 obituary in the Tampa Tribune.

Info from "Tampa's City Council and Centennial Celebration of Old City Hall"


The 1931 Sanborn Map below had not changed the name to Robles Park.
Map courtesy of the University of Florida Library digital map collection.
Mouse-over the map to see it change to present-day view.




By Mar. 6, 1928, the animals had all been returned.  The project was "dropped until the new budget is prepared."  (Which would be in about 30 years.)






So the story continues, "In the beginning, Lowry Park was little more than 105 or so acres of picnic grounds.  Well, there was actually more to it than just that.


In Jan. 1934, work began on on building a Federal Emergency Relief camp on the grounds. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) was the new name given by the Roosevelt Administration to the Emergency Relief Administration (ERA) which President Roosevelt had created in 1933.  Under Roosevelt, the agency gave loans to the states to operate relief programs during the Great Depression.

Group of FERA cabanas on the grounds of Lowry Park, north of Sligh Avenue in April, 1935.

Photos from Florida Memory at Florida State Archives.
The cabanas were part of  FERA project 29-B4-255, a part of the Lowry Park Transient Camp.


The camp turned out to be a very well-operated facility, with the residents becoming another responsible Tampa community.  There were eating facilities, a staff doctor, and plenty of room for sports.  They participated in area sports, with their own baseball team, boxing team, track team, and entertainment events put on by the residents at the camp and around town, and given for the residents by the Tampa community as well.  In fact, the news about the camp in 1934 and 1935 was heavily dominated by articles and scores for the results of their baseball team league games, boxing matches, and entertainments they gave and received.


By summer of 1936 Federal funding was cut and the camp residents began to diminish.  It was closed in August 1936 with a possible plan by the Federal government to fund development of Lowry Park, which fell through due to limited funds. 


But Tampa had a "Plan B" and the facility was developed into something else for those in need.

This breakout page also features the construction of Middleton High School, another FERA project in Tampa.





Tampa's zoo began around 1937 as an animal shelter in Plant Park, on the banks of the Hillsborough River near downtown.   It was started by city employees and originally consisted of a small collection of indigenous animals such as raccoons, alligators and an aviary with a variety of exotic birds.

Three women looking at alligator from a foot bridge in Plant Park, Sept. 11, 1936.  Burgert Bros. photo from the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library digital collection









The entrance to Plant Park with the University of Tampa in the background, Sept. 5, 1936.

Burgert Bros. photo from the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library digital collection.



The nucleus of what would become referred to as the "Tampa City Zoo" or "Plant Park Zoo" was actually started before 1937 and it was started by ONE city employee.

Throughout Plant Park's approximately fifteen to twenty year history, alligators and bears would be the main attraction, as various ones came and went, escaped, or died. There were also in the early years, some "exotic" or non-indigenous animals, some from Mexico, which helped to attract even the Florida natives to the park. 

As for this often repeated story...

"As the zoo collection at Plant Park had grown, the animals were moved during the term of Mayor Nick Nuccio to the more centrally located Lowry park in 1957 where it was maintained by Tampa's Parks Department."

... you will see what really happened, and it was not the story above. 


There were also quite a few private (or "back yard") zoos in Tampa and the surrounding area by the early 1900s.  The most well-known ones were at Sulphur Springs and at a Sunoco filling station.   Sulphur Springs was mainly a reptile farm, and the Sunoco station zoo in particular was a very popular hangout, with thousands of visitors a year.  It had a much larger, more diversified collection of animals than Plant Park's, and its owner, Albert Boyd, knew how to advertise them to draw in the crowds.  It was the most popular zoo in Tampa before Fairyland Zoo at Lowry Park.

Learn about these zoos at:






On Jan. 1, 1950, in a very long article, the Tribune recounted all the great strides that Tampa had made in the previous year.   The Tribune thought segregated parks was one of those "great" strides.

Dec. 1, 1952

"Miss Caston with children at Lowry Park" from the Tampa Photo Supply Collection online at the Tampa-Hillsborough Co. Public Library System. The Tampa Photo Supply collection features a wide range of photographs taken by professional photographers Rose Rutigliano Weekley and Joseph Scolaro primarily in Tampa and Hillsborough County from approximately 1947 to 1990. Many are weddings, birthdays, parties, banquets, special events, etc, with people named.

Already, residents along the river in this area were being disturbed by boaters racing up and down the river.

Before Fairyland, the park's biggest crowds came on days the City gave away free surplus parks dept. plants.

From: Zoo Story, by Thomas French at Internet Archive

The city’s zoo had started in the 1930s as a tiny menagerie [at Plant Park]—a handful of raccoons and alligators, a few exotic birds—and then had slowly grown [at Lowry Park] into a larger collection of lions and tigers and bears and even one elephant, a female Asian named Sheena who had been transported from India on a jet in 1961, making her the zoo’s original flying elephant. The undisputed star in those early years, Sheena performed twice a day in a circus ring and then gave rides to children. Admission was free.

The place was sometimes called “the Fairyland Zoo,” because the animal attractions were merged with a panorama of storybook houses and scenes re-created from Mother Goose and other children’s tales. Kids skipped across the Rainbow Bridge and darted among replicas of the Seven Dwarves, Humpty-Dumpty, and the Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs. They clambered onto a small train that chugged and curved across the grounds, and spun on the Tilt-a-Wheel, and threw food over a fence within reach of Sheena’s trunk.

Just north of the zoo stood Safety Village, a miniature replica of Tampa, with a shopping mall and a fire station and a tiny City Hall, where police officers tutored young citizens in how to recognize traffic signs and use crosswalks and repel the advances of molesters. Second-graders even got to ride small electric vehicles as they practiced braking at stoplights on Happy Drive and Polite Boulevard.

Yours truly at Lowry Park; sitting on the benches at the band shell, Easter Sunday, April 18, 1965.

Lowry Park Beginnings


The Courthouse Fountain & Sulphur Springs zoos


Plant Park Zoo


Boyd's Sunoco Zoo




Fairyland/Lowry Park Zoo


Sheena the Baby Elephant & Jim Godfrey

Herman - King of the Zoo


Safety Village / Children's Museum / Kids City


Dr. Bragg's Fantasia Golf


Saving Fairyland!

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