JARDINE: A history of monkey business at Modesto zoo

jjardine@modbee.comJune 24, 2013 

JJ Zoo 1

The space where the last building left over from Jack Ulrich's zoo in his shopping center at Roseburg and Virginia avenues was razed last week will be converted to a parklike setting with a monument marking the site of Modesto's first and only zoo. Ulrich Shopping Center is now Roseburg Square.

JEFF JARDINE — The Modesto Bee Buy Photo

    alternate textJeff Jardine
    Title: Local columnist
    Coverage areas: People, issues, the community
    Bio: Jeff Jardine joined The Bee's staff in 1988 after a decade at the Stockton Record. He covered sports before moving into news in 1996 and became the Local Columnist in 2003. He graduated from University of the Pacific in 1979, majoring in communications and history.
    Recent stories written by Jeff
    On Twitter: @jeffjardine57
    E-mail: jjardine@modbee.com

From the emails and voice mails:

WE HAD A ZOO — Where were you in 1962? At Modesto's zoo, perhaps.

That August, Jack and Joy Ulrich opened a small zoo amid great fanfare in the Ulrich Shopping Center — they called it "The Big U" — at Roseburg and Virginia avenues in central Modesto.

Indeed, it was Modesto's first and only zoo, and Lulu the chimpanzee became the star.

"(Jack) put in an air conditioning and heating unit in the back of the cage so she'd be comfortable," Joy Ulrich said.

Their young son, Robert Ulrich — now an Emmy-winning casting director in Hollywood — decided he wanted to go into the cage and play with Lulu and wouldn't take no for an answer.

"She wasn't happy about him being in there with him," Joy said. "She was jealous of him. After that, he never asked to go back in."

The zoo included a macaque monkey named Burgi that gave birth in captivity there. The Ulrichs exhibited tropical birds, reptiles and other critters.

Lulu died in 1972 or so, with an autopsy showing she had drugs in her system. Joy Ulrich believes some sick-minded kids came to the zoo after hours and slipped Lulu the lethal dose.

About that same time, animal rights activists began complaining about the facility. The Ulrichs closed it sometime after 1972.

One by one, the zoo's buildings and enclosures disappeared as the shopping center underwent various remodelings and eventually became Roseburg Square.

Two years ago, the owners tore down the building that housed the California Ice Factory, which sold shaved ice, smoothies and milkshakes. That left only the restroom, which stood until a crew tore it down last week. The very last remnant of the zoo is gone.

Jacki Sutter, bookkeeper with Property Services of Ripon, said the restroom was in bad shape. Homeless people had broken in and were living in it, and it had become a liability. Plans initially called for simply creating additional parking spaces.

Instead, the center will develop a parklike area with a monument commemorating what the Ulrichs once billed as "A Zoo 4 U at the sign of the Big U."

HISTORY ON DISPLAY — Sonora's Tuolumne County Museum will unveil its Gold Rush Black Heritage Exhibit at 2 p.m. Thursday. The exhibit depicts three generations of the Sugg family, who were among the 5,000 blacks in California during the Gold Rush days, and covers 125 years of black history in this state. The Sugg family home, built in 1857, still stands in Sonora and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Email Sylvia Roberts at blackminer@gmail.com for more information.

RACE ACROSS AMERICA — Seana Hogan of Valley Springs entered the vaunted Race Across America — considered the nation's toughest cycling event — with serious credentials. She had won the event a record six times in women's solo divisions and set her sights on a seventh when this year's race began June 11 in Oceanside, with a destination of Annapolis, Md.

Among her crew: Modesto's Diane Reese, whose brother, Modesto native Rod Jewett, is president of Bianchi USA, which co-sponsors Hogan. He pitched the idea of Reese becoming a crew member, and Hogan sent her a video containing footage of previous races.

"I kept thinking about it and wondered if I could handle the intense lack of sleep and creature comforts it would take to get Seana to Annapolis from Oceanside," Reese said. "I decided I would regret not going and off I went. It was so exciting and inspiring to see these athletes push their bodies to the absolute limits."

Competing in the 50-59 age group, the 54-year-old Hogan encountered physical problems that forced her to withdraw from the race at El Dorado, Kan. — 1,564 miles into it, 1,406 to go and leading at the time.

"I will never forget her tenacity and strength of body and will," Reese said.

CRUISE CONTROL — Longtime car enthusiast and 1960s cruiser Gene Weber emailed to set the record straight after the Graffiti Night coverage:

"The Modesto Bee did a great job covering the Cruise Night and Car Show … Hot as it was," Weber wrote. But … "There was a car club the Modesto Bee forgot to mention! That George Lucas belonged to also at that time. It was the Ecurie Awol Sports Car Club that the late Chuck Billington was the president (of). If you look at some of the older pictures of George Lucas and his cars, you will see the Awol sticker on them. There were a few of us that belonged to the Ecurie Awol Club that attended this event."

Duly noted.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.

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