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ChefMaster 90206, Cast Iron Mini Hibachi Grill, Indoor S'mores Appetizers Pu-Pu Griller, Mini Portable Hibachi Stove with Wooden Base and Fuel Holder
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Relaxdays Folding Outdoor Camping Grill, Steel Tabletop Barbecue HWD: 12 x 25 x 25 cm, Black
- Portable: Collapsible picnic barbecue - For spontaneous and quick cooking sessions
- For 2 people: Removable chromed steel grid - W x D: app. 25 x 25 cm
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Teppantastic Electric Indoor BBQ Grill Plate - Non-Stick Large Cooking Plate with Adjustable Thermostat Control, 8 Spatulas and Cool Touch Handles, Entertaining Dinner Parties by Jean Patrique
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Discovering the Ruins of Houser's Zoo
Finding the ruins of Houser's Grove and Zoo started out, surprisingly, with a sudden hunkering for a taste of barbeque. Really. Urban Archeology at its tastiest!
I've had the location of the old Houser's Grove Zoo on my mind for a couple of years now, even hinted at it in my How to Find Old and Forgotten Places to Explore article. The thing was, I really didn't know exactly where the zoo had been located. Interviews with friends had revealed the approximate area along Hwy 192 in Melbourne, Florida, but that just didn't cut it. I wanted more. I wanted the spot. I could recall having visited the small zoo as a wee lad of 7 or 8 -- this is back in the 1970's -- and I remembered, uhh -- well -- not much. Not much at all.
In a 1988 Orlando Sentinel article , writer Mark Vosburgh reported, "Houser, a citrus farmer and the zoo's founder, died Nov. 9 (1987) at age 77. He had started exhibiting a couple of rabbits and a kangaroo in 1960 to attract people to his orange groves. By 1985, his roadside exhibit featured 250 exotic birds and animals. Houser gave the zoo to the East Coast Zoological Society of Florida in 1985. He agreed to lease the land to the society for $1 a year."
From what I've heard and read, all those years ago, Houser's Grove Zoo wasn't exactly a 4-star stay for Llamas and the like. Mike Thomas' Orlando Sentinel article is especially nauseating in its description of the site. When the zoo closed, most of the animals were relocated north to Viera where the Brevard Zoo celebrated its grand opening on March 26, 1994. The Brevard Zoo operates a very pleasant facility with plenty of room and proper care. I've been there many times and it's a first class facility.
So here it was, forty years later, and I was, once again, driving down 192 craning my head around, scanning the north side of the highway. To be honest, the Indiana Jones in me was pretty sure I'd figured out the zoo location many months ago while visiting the nearby Northern Tool Company. All I had to do is work up the courage to go knock on a door to a dilapidated home along the busy road.
Can you imagine the conversation?
"Yeah? Who is it?"
"Uhh, excuse me, my name's Ron, and I'm writing this article, and I, uhh, was wondering. Did your home used to be a zoo?"
Somehow at this point my imagination conjures up the sound of a shotgun being cocked.
I don't know about you, but I'm not so good with confrontation, so, maybe that's why I kept putting my door knocking skills on the back burner. Till about one week ago.
The Nudged Moment
It was after work, and I'd gotten off of I-95 southbound, filled up the gas tank, and was now driving East on 192, and of course, you already know what I was looking around for. That's when I saw it. No, not the zoo. But barbeque! Big Jim's BBQ!
I couldn't remember seeing the eat-outside BBQ place before, but even as I drove past it, I had this strange sensation that I was supposed to turn around. I put off the nudge three different times before finally pulling a U-turn, driving back West, and pulling into the dirt parking lot. I spied a trailer and nicely laid out dining area. A small sign promising a "$5 Rib Tips" special called to me in bright red letters. Soon, I was laughing with the owner, who actually is named Jim, and listening to him describe his variety of delicious creations. As he put together my to-go order, he gave me a mouth watering sample of his rib tips. Yum!
And then, I did it. With the sweet, tangy taste of BBQ on my tongue, I popped the question.
No, I didn't ask him for his BBQ sauce recipe (though it did cross my mind -- Jim's sauce is amazing!) No, rather, I asked him if he'd grown up in the Melbourne area, and he replied with a hearty, "Sure have!"
"I wonder," I started, "any chance you remember Houser's Zoo?"
Jim laughed one of those belly laughs that only good BBQ chefs can pull off. "Sure do!" he bellowed. "It's right here. You're standing on it."
"Whaaa?" I heard myself say. "You're joking, right?"
"Nope," Jim chuckled, jerking a thumb backwards. "Why, if you go back behind the trees a ways, behind my trailer here, you can even see the coquina rocks still stacked up."
My mouth started salivating. From the BBQ smell or the urge to explore a long forgotten zoo site, I couldn't tell.
"Think anyone would mind if I go take a look?" I asked.
"I don't think so. Just walk down that dirt path there," he said pointing. "Then, just hang a right."
Admittedly, after trudging through the weeds of the empty property, it wasn't a whole lot to look at. I found two, possibly three stacks of coquina rock, even climbed up on them. Had this at one time been in a lion's cage? Maybe a monkey's? Had it just been part of the scenery as you walked through the zoo? (You can click on the photos above to get a larger view).
On my way back out, I spotted a graveyard of bricks and rocks (photo #4), and some rotting boards. More ruins, I suppose.
So, I'd found Houser's Zoo. Or, at least what was left of it.
Old Zoo Pictures
Part of the adventure of finding old forgotten places, is the fun in trying to find pictures from the era in which they were alive. As it turned out, with Houser's Zoo, photos are harder to discover than you might think. I have had several friends who have said things like, "I remember visiting Houser's, but not sure where the pictures are."
One friend, though, came through in spades with the awesome main image - #1 - for this article. Make sure you click on it to open it to its fullest -- there is some awesome detail in this portrait shot. I have no idea how many shoeboxes he had to climb through to find it, but I'm tickled that he was able to unearth a picture of Houser's roadside sign. In the background can be seen a building in the midst of demolition. Could this be where I found the old bricks and rubble? Perhaps. My friend said I could use the photo if I treated him to cash -- but I think I've convinced him to settle for ice cream. Perhaps a taste of the exquisite, smooth taste of our local Cold Fusion Iced Cream will keep the friendship in good standing.
Ron's Urban Archeology Scores Another Win
Was finding Houser's Zoo with my "urban archeology" sleuthing a success? I think so. Now I know where it used to be. Now I know I don't have to knock on any strange doors or crane my neck each time I drive down this stretch of road.
Plus, there's the bonus of having found Big Jims BBQ, currently sitting on the same land. Why, I could get used to all this adventuring. Uncovering lost places, enjoying delicious BBQ ribs, ice cream with a friend --
Even though it can be a zoo out there sometimes -- perseverance paid off. The location now nailed down.
Thanks for the nudge, God. I totally enjoyed this one.
Bing Map of former Houser's Zoo Location
More of Ron's Urban Archeology Explorations
The Supermarket's Mysterious Interior Void
The Ruins of Daytona Beach's Talisman Lodge
The Abandoned Tropical Wonderland Theme Park of Johnny Weissmuller
Finding Splendid China - The abandoned $100 Million Florida Theme Park
The Search for the Lost Submarines from Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea