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South Pasadena, California

Cawston Ostrich Farm

Southern California Exotica. 

Though it’s hard to believe in this age of high-tech theme parks with 3-D motion simulator rides and multi-million dollar immersive environments, the most popular attraction in Southern California was once a flock of ornery bipedal birds on a dusty nine-acre farm just outside Pasadena. These ostriches were brought to California in 1886 by Edward Cawston, whose plan was to cash in on the popularity of ostrich feathers as fashion accessories by cutting out the middlemen and raising his own birds.

Most of the birds he imported from South Africa and Texas died almost immediately, but he was soon able to encourage the remaining birds to breed, and his herd would swell to 100 at its height. Cawston soon realized that he could charge tourists and locals for ostrich rides while hawking lucrative ostrich memorabilia from the farm’s gift shop. The farm became so popular that the Pacific Electric Railway built a Red Car trolley stop nearby to accommodate the flood of visitors headed up the Arroyo Seco to see Cawston’s birds.

The farm closed in 1935, though the original brick buildings remain. The Gold Line light rail train follows the old Red Car right of way by the property, letting modern riders retrace the steps of the thousands of visitors to one of Southern California’s first tourist attractions.

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