Oklahoma History: January 2011 Archives

Route 66 News reports that the City of Catoosa is applying for a state grant to purchase the Blue Whale and surrounding property from the sole owner, a member of the Hugh Davis family.

I was pleased to see that there's talk of rebuilding the ARK -- Animal Reptile Kingdom -- which predates the Blue Whale. I remember a field trip from Catoosa Elementary School, c. 1970, to the ARK, which had small animals on exhibit inside. (I seem to recall a snake pit on the property too, and that the assistant principal, Mr. Hough, had some experience working with snakes and went into the pit.) I don't remember the ARK being open during the years that the Blue Whale pond was a public swimming hole. There is another building just to the south of the ARK -- a peaked roof with two wings, probably the original welcome center(and gift shop, no doubt) from Hugh Davis's roadside attraction.

My mom taught the Davises' grandchildren in kindergarten, and every year during her unit on Indians, Hugh would set up a teepee in her classroom.

For its May 22, 2009, issue, the Journal Record interviewed Blaine Davis, who tells the story of the Blue Whale that has its roots in his father's career at director of the Tulsa Zoo and the opportunity for roadside attractions created by the new four-lane alignment of Route 66 (c. 1957) through his property.

Straightening that stretch in the still-busy intercontinental road (the Turner and Will Rogers turnpikes were less than a decade old at that point) came as Hugh Davis contemplated retirement. For more than 30 years, the Tulsa Zoo curator struggled against tight budgets to build his facility, often journeying around the world to catch animals himself. So when highway planners dissected his 38- acre homestead with a safer U.S. Highway 66, thereby giving Hugh several new roadside lots, he left the zoo in 1966 to open a then- common tourist trap, the exotic animal park.

Blaine Davis said his parents stocked Nature's Acres with alligators, poisonous snakes, monkeys and many other creatures, which were kept in a stable, pins or pits around a two-story wooden ark used for concessions and parties. Hugh Davis built the facilities by hand with whatever he could find - such as leftover World War II bomber turrets, which topped his grove of seven-foot- tall concrete mushrooms.

The story notes that the whale was completed in 1972, and the park was closed in 1988.

On the Blue Whale's Yelp entry, Hugh and Zelta Davis's granddaughter comments:

Im the great grand daughter of Hugh Davis, the creator of the Blue Whale, and I always find it comical to read reviews about our family's private property. Many people who don't take time to read the story of the Whale do not understand it. Hugh and Zelta Davis were avid animal lovers, and it's guaranteed if you ever stopped by their house you would have encountered animals such as bear cubs, monkeys, and even tiger cubs that needed a little extra care outside of the Zoo. Hugh Davis wanted to find a way to give citizens of Catoosa (and surrounding areas) the opportunity to enjoy animals and learn about them. First was Nature's Acre's and the ARK which had a snake corral and an alligator farm. This place stayed busy! Once Hugh retired about 10yrs later, he needed something to keep him busy. Within a few years the project was complete. Originally, the pond surrounding the massive Blue Whale was spring fed and intended only for family use. However, as many locals began to come to enjoy its waters, Davis brought in tons of sand, built picnic tables, hired life guards, and opened it to the public. The Blue Whale closed in 1988 because the owners were getting too old to manage the park. The Whale was created out of pure love for the love of his life, and they shared the gift with everyone. The thought that his whale would one day be a historic and fascinating attraction never crossed his mind, and so there was no need for copyright or trademark registration.

She notes that because the family doesn't hold any IP rights to the whale's image, T-shirts and souvenirs created and sold by others doesn't contribute to the upkeep of the whale.


A vintage postcard of Hugh and Zelta Davis's Animal Reptile Kingdom, featuring Zelta with two alligators.

Zippy the Pinhead visited the Blue Whale in 2002.

A description of this stretch of Route 66 from the Twin Bridges to the Blue Whale.

Here's a Google Map I created showing the location of Animal Reptile Kingdom and Blue Whale and environs. Corrections and additions are welcome.

View Blue Whale and Animal Reptile Kingdom in a larger map

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma History category from January 2011.

Oklahoma History: July 2010 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma History: October 2011 is the next archive.

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