by Diann Marsh, from Santa Ana, An Illustrated History,
©1994 Heritage Publishing. Excerpt used with permission.
"Monkeys make the best pets in the world," Joseph Edward
Prentice used to say. He allowed four or five monkeys to run free
in his magnificent 16-room mansion at 1660 E. First Street. It
has been said that he had a hard time keeping housekeepers because
of the antics of the monkeys.
The Burge Mansion, a square three-story Italianate house with
a six-sided, two-story turret, was located on the spot where the
Saddleback Inn and the Elks Club sit today.
E. D. Burge was a citrus rancher who called his house and groves
Melwood Estate. Mr. Burge, a former oil producer from the
San Joaquin Valley, purchased the house in 1911 from the Los Angeles
Trust and Savings Bank for a sum of $40,000. He built a packing
house on the property in 1915.
Unfortunately, Mr. Burge lost the house and grounds in November
of 1929. It sold to W L. Moore for $125,000. In 1931 "Ed"
Prentice bought the property, which included 19.23 acres, after
it had been foreclosed upon, for $12,650. The difference
in price illustrates the impact of the Depression on the sales
price of property in Orange County.
In 1949 Ed Prentice gifted the City of Santa Ana with 16 acres
of land for Prentice Park. R Carson Smith, then mayor of Santa
Ana and the manager of a title company, remembers the day Prentice
walked into his office and proposed the idea of a park for the
providing it be named Prentice Park He first tried to negotiate
an agreement whereby he would give the park 12 acres. He wanted
to donate an additional $100,000 for the purpose of buying animals
for the zoo, with a condition that his nephew, Jack Crawford, be
consulted as to the type of wild animals purchased. The City refused
his offer. The Judge still donated the land, but made the stipulation
that at least 50 monkeys be on the premises at all times.
On May 19,1949, the City Council gave Ed Prentice a gold key to
the city in a ceremony held in council chambers-the second key
to the city to have been given by the council.
Dorothy Gastag relates: "Construction of the park was the
start of a long series of battles between the strong-minded donor
and city councilmen. Prentice, white-thatched, small, wiry and
irascible, wearing a faded maroon corduroy jacket and dutching
between his teeth the stem of an old porcelain pipe much mended
with friction tape, maintained a ubiquitous and disapproving surveillance
over the entire operation. He shouted and waved his arms, ordering
and countermanding orders, until distraught workmen dreamed of
mayhem. Prentice was also an inveterate reporter to the press,
and his comments and outcries made him the darling of reporters,
especially those from the Santa Ana Independent."
By the time Ed Prentice died, on June 3, 1959 at the age of 81,
his zoo was well on the way to becoming a success. The staff was
careful to breed only top-quality animals, and often traded the
healthy offspring to other zoos for some of the rare species it
wanted. In 1966 the zoo received a lot of favorable publicity when
a pair of dark gibbons, Amos and Andrea (formally called Andy),
gave birth to a rare blond gibbon.