There’s a feeling of nostalgia floating around Naples these days as a piece of historic Fifth Avenue (and our hearts) is leveled to make room for new and bigger things. We at The New Naples embrace Southwest Florida’s modern generation and the positive contributions it makes to the wellbeing and culture of this Gulfside paradise.

But we also believe that there can be no new Naples without an old Naples. In an effort to keep the history of our beloved little city alive, even as it grows and evolves, we’re delving into the stories of some still-standing local landmarks that offer a glimpse of Naples as it was—and that still hold an important place in our community today.

The Old Naples: Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
{courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}

Over the years, the Naples Zoo property has gone by several names, including Jungle Larry’s and Caribbean Gardens. Through all the changes, it’s remained a horticultural respite from the growing bustle just outside its leafy walls.

1919 – In order to avoid a disastrous freeze of his plant collection during a particularly cold central Florida winter, botanist Dr. Henry Nehrling acquires the site where the Naples Zoo would eventually stand. (At this time, Naples was being sold as farm plots for agriculture.)

1925 – His garden grows to contain about 3,000 species of tropical plants, which he called the Tropical Garden. It was one of the earliest plant collections in Florida, and it occupied the northern portion of the present-day Gardens. Over the years, he welcomes some famous visitors, including Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Edison.

1946 – Businessman and philanthropist Julius Fleischmann of Cincinnati, Ohio, arrives in Naples. By the early 1950s, he begins building along what is now Third Street South. He also takes an interest in restoring Nehrling’s garden—no small feat after more than a decade of neglect—by clearing trails and debris, digging lakes and planting new species.

1954 – With the addition of a flock of tropical birds, voila! The Caribbean Gardens are born again. (Early brochures for the garden describe its location as “just north of Naples.”)

1956
1956 {courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}

1967 – Col. Lawrence and Nancy Jane Tetzlaff—perhaps better known as Jungle Larry and Safari Jane—visit the gardens in search of a winter home for their collection of rare animals. (In the Midwest, the couple is well-known zoo operators, running a zoological area within Ohio’s Cedar Point theme park.) The Gardens pique their interest, but Fleischmann isn’t selling.

Larry Tetzlaff in 1979 {courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}
Larry Tetzlaff in 1979 {courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}

1969 – After Fleischmann’s death, the Tetzlaffs are contacted about exhibiting their animals within the Gardens. They set about the challenging task of placing the animal exhibits in the existing landscape without disrupting the decades-old plants and trees. On September 1, guests come face to face with exotic animals in the Gardens for the first time.

1992
1992 {courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}

2001 – Naples Zoo achieves national accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums—the highest standard for such establishments.

2002 – The Fleischmanns decide to sell their 43 acres of zoo property and the nearly 120 acres surrounding it. The Tetzlaff family reaches out to the Board of Collier County Commissioners regarding a public purchase of the property to ensure its safety from corporate development.

2004 – The decision is put to a vote, and a record 73 percent of voters decide the fate of the zoo: It stays.

Now a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, the zoo welcomed more than 365,000 guests last year (averaging more than 1,000 a day!) and gave more than $1.5 million in free admissions and philanthropic dollars to the community. And the Tetzlaff legacy lives on—Jungle Larry and Safari Jane’s son, Tim, currently serves as the zoo’s Director of Conservation.

The Old Naples: Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
{courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}

Naples Zoo
1590 Goodlette-Frank Road, Naples | 239-262-5409
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Want more about the old Naples? Check out the storied past of the Naples Pier.

The Old Naples: Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
{courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}
1960
1960 {courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}
1960
1960 {courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}
1962
1962 {courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}
1962
1962 {courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}
1973
1973 {courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}
1973
1973 {courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}
1982
1982 {courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}
1992
1992 {courtesy of State Library & Archives of Florida}

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