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Our History

Our history

Happy Hollow’s roots go as deep as Southern California, where in 1955 Disneyland began wowing children and adults alike. Plans for a children’s park in San José soon followed, led by Alden Campen, a prominent landowner and property manager, and former Mayor Ernie Renzel.

They purchased 7.5 acres from the Kelley family on behalf of the City of San José to provide a home for the park in what is now known as Kelley Park.


After Gary Shippam’s entry “Happy Hollow” won a naming contest held in the San Jose Mercury News in 1957, planning began in earnest.


Daryle O. Chapman of San Francisco was the display designer, and construction began in 1958 with the creation of the pond system, pathways, a parking lot and restrooms. A 40- foot long Viking lifeboat was purchased from the shipyards in Benicia for just $1 and transported to San José on Highway 101. More features began to take shape, including the Tree House and Monkey Island,built by Ralph Rosendin.

The Danny the Dragon train ride was built on a half- mile track by Arrow Development for $15,500, and Campfire Girls planted 700 trees. Next came the USS Happy Hollow – a paddle wheel boat – and service groups provided donations that allowed for twin slides, the puppet theater, the maze, an amphitheater, a children’ssize firehouse and birthday areas.

March 27, 1961

Happy Hollow opened its gates in March 1961, charging children 10 cents and adults 15 cents for admission.

In the summer of 1964, the Happy- Go- Round was added, featuring 24 horses and chariots (it was later re- themed as King Neptune’s Carousel). Not long after, the Mini Putt- Putt car ride and the little Merry- Go- Round were moved from Alum Rock Park to Happy Hollow.


In 1967, a new area was created for zoo animals just east of Happy Hollow, and the two areas were connected through an expansion of the meadow in 1972.


A single entrance was created in 1976, and one of the park’s most popular attractions, the Crooked House, made its debut. An annual snowman building contest was held in this same meadow beginning in September 1978, which is as good a time as any to build a snowman in San José.


The 1980s brought more improvements and additions. The Kelley Park Express Train opened, linking Happy Hollow to History Park, and the Mine Ride Coaster was installed. Monkey Island was replaced with a remote control boat attraction. Animal enclosures were modernized to allow for more spacious, natural habitats; animals were exhibited in family groups; and the zoo education program began using a portable building donated by Happy Hollow Corporation (known today as Happy Hollow Foundation).


In 1993, Happy Hollow was accredited for the first time by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (now known as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums).


In 1994, Happy Hollow developed its first master plan, a $50 million blueprint for the future of the park and zoo. Six years later, San José residents helped make those plans a reality by passing the Parks Bond Act, which provided $52 million to Happy Hollow.


Improvements included the replacement of the jaguar enclosure – originally built in 1967 – with a naturalistic daytime exhibit and a nighthouse. The aviary, also built in 1967, was replaced with a lemur habitat; the hippopotamus pool, no longer needed, was removed to create a nighthouse for the muntjac deer, and ring- tailed lemurs got a new home.


On July 9, 2008, Happy Hollow closed its gates to begin a $72 million renovation that included 12 acres of existing park and zoo property, as well as four additional acres for new animal exhibits, veterinary and commissary buildings, an education center, a gift shop and a new dining area called the Picnic Basket. A pedestrian bridge spanning Coyote Creek connected Happy Hollow’s new entry plaza with a spacious parking lot off Story Road. The facility also was updated to meet ADA standards, and its eco- friendly architecture and other green features earned LEED Gold Certification. The new Keep- Around Carousel provided more of Happy Hollow’s trademark whimsy, featuring endangered – or in the case of a certain dragon, imaginary – animals.


The brand new Happy Hollow Park & Zoo opened March 20, 2010.


The park celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011.


The red panda exhibit grand opening inside the Zoo in the Hollow.


Team Kids renovation and American alligator exhibit grand opening.


Pacific Fruit Express renovation.