George Tregembo, collector of animals and assorted worldly curiosities that became the Tregembo Animal Park, opened the Carolina Beach Road zoo in 1953. He originally called it the Tote Em In Zoo. It quickly became a child favorite, and remains a landmark to this day.
Tregembo died June 10, 2010, at the age of 88. Originally from Hallowell, Maine, Tregembo first came to North Carolina while in the Army and stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro.
He visited Carolina Beach and Fort Fisher while on a two-day pass and immediately loved the weather, said his son, Robert Tregembo.
After getting out of the Army and spending a few years running a zoo in Maine, George Tregembo moved to Wilmington in 1952 and soon founded the Tote Em In Zoo.
He started with less than a dozen animals and a collection of spear points, shrunken heads, masks and more that he had started while serving in the South Pacific during World War II.
Robert Tregembo, who currently owns and operates the zoo, said he began working with the animals when he was 5 years old.
One of the fondest memories he has with his dad, he said, is helping him take care of Matteau, an elephant who stood sentry at the front of the zoo from 1966 to 1991.
“She was like a part of the family,” Robert Tregembo said, noting that she needed near-constant attention. “Elephants are always into trouble.”
Though the family has kept ownership of the land since the zoo’s founding, it has not always operated it.
The family transferred control of the Tote Em In Zoo beginning in 1990 to a man named Jerry Brewer. He operated the zoo until 2003, when he decided to shut it down after a few years of declining revenues.
After hearing the news, George Tregembo, upset by the prospect of the zoo closing, came out of retirement to help his family restore the park, granddaughter Sherry Tregembo told the StarNews at the time.
The Tregembo family, who had leased the land to Brewer, took back full control of the zoo for the first time since 2000 and began months of renovations.
It re-opened in February 2004 as the Tregembo Animal Park, with a new emphasis on education.
Gone were many of the concrete cages that had held big cats and bears, leading People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to list the zoo as one of the country’s worst roadside zoos in 1998.
Instead, animals roamed in more of a park-like atmosphere. The zoo also expanded from 5 acres to 10 acres.
Now, the zoo is home to more than 75 species of animals, including a lion, tiger, nearly 30 monkeys, and many types of snakes and birds.
Date posted: August 16, 2010