A child at the Cawston Ostrich Farm in South Pasadena, circa 1925. Los Angeles Public Library

The illustrious ostrich farms of Southern California

The first ostriches arrived in Southern California in 1883, brought by a British naturalist named Charles Sketchley, who hoped to make his fortune supplying their feathers to the fashion industry. The long-necked birds transfixed locals, who began showing up at Sketchley’s property near Anaheim in large numbers. He started charging 50 cents for admission, kick-starting what would become an early iteration of California’s first amusement parks, according to the historian Nathan Masters. The New York Times and Chicago Daily Tribune ran articles. “To those who are unfamiliar with the appearance of an ostrich,” wrote the Tribune correspondent, “it may be described as resembling nothing more than a large gas pipe set on tall and muscular legs.”

Other entrepreneurs took note, and by 1910 there were 10 ostrich farms across Southern California. One of the most popular was Cawston Ostrich Farm in South Pasadena, which offered ostrich rides and sold ostrich-feathered hats and fans. Over time, however, Angelenos drifted toward other diversions, and the ostrich farms faded away. The Los Angeles Ostrich Farm was the last to close in L.A. in 1953. Disneyland opened two years later. KCET

Below, see a selection of photos from Southern California’s ostrich heyday.

Ostriches held in a pen in Pasadena, circa 1886-1894.
Huntington Digital Library
A baby ostrich in a bow tie.
Los Angeles Public Library
The Lundy family in the early 1900s.
South Pasadena Public Library
A circa-1910 postcard showed the feathery fashions on offer at the Los Angeles Ostrich Farm.
Loyola Marymount University
Visitors to Cawston Ostrich Farm.
M.A. Wesner
A postcard for Cawston Ostrich Farm, circa 1896-1914.
South Pasadena Public Library
An ostrich carriage was stopped by a police officer in Los Angeles, circa 1930.
Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

This article is from the California Sun, a newsletter that delivers must-read stories to your inbox each morning . Sign up here.

Get your daily dose of the Golden State.