The California Alligator Farm
1907-1953

Same owners of the Los Angeles Ostrich Farm


World's largest Alligator farm.
See The Trained Alligators.
Over 1000 On Exhibition.
One of the most novel and interesting sights in the world.
Most stupendous aggregation ever exhibited. Opposite Lincoln Park.
Also complete line of alligator handbags, purses, belts, etc.
Our only salesroom is at the farm.

We make a specialty of Alligator Bags Ornamented
with Genuine Alligator Heads and Claws.

A nature thrill for everyone.
Children & Adults are amazed at this strange new industry.
Here are to be seen hundreds of alligator of all sizes, from little babies, hardly the size of a lizard, up to huge monsters, 500 years old or more.
The nest, the eggs incubating in the machines, all to be seen in a beautiful park and miniature lakes especially adapted for raising saurian.
Competent guides are furnished to every visitor to give information and habits of these strange creatures, making your visit interesting and amusing as well as instructive.
Description taken from the original alligator farm brochure.
See the original brochure from my collection. Page 1  Page 2
VIDEO BY VICTORIA - ALLIGATOR FARM IN 1941
Gilbert, Marilyn, Richard & Evelyn do the local alligator scene. 

WONDERFUL VIDEO, CHECKOUT THE OSTRICH VIDEO
ON THE OSTRICH FARM PAGE

Like a lot of other people, I landed at your site trying to get some back story on a few slivers of family history.  I had a few vague notes, but your pages were really helpful in fleshing out the story, so I wanted to drop you a line to thank you.  It's just great that sites like yours exist!
I've been spending a lot of time googling the tourist spots of the 30s and 40s recently because I've gotten access to old home movies my grandfather shot.  In the case of Lincoln Heights, I had some footage of my father and his siblings visiting alligators, then ostriches and then lions, and a note that the alligators were in Hollywood and the lions were "Gays" and that the year was 1941.  Thanks to your site and an another resource I found for Gay's Lion Farm in El Monte, I can now label the video with a lot more gusto & accuracies.  Official park names and actual locations and everything!   5/5/06


 
1/21/05

Through more research I found a web site Black Hills Reptile Gardens in South Dakota and noticed the name "Ken Earnest". Is this the same Ken Earnest that was at the California Alligator Farm? I emailed Ken and he replied, "Francis Earnest was my Grandfather and my father was also of this name". BINGO!
Ken is still working with reptiles in South Dakota. He is Head Curator at Black Hills Reptile Gardens and is one of the world's foremost authorities on crocodilians, and reptiles in general. He was the first person in the world to reproduce the highly endangered Cuban crocodile in captivity.

Javier,
Saw your web site and it brought back a lot of memories.
Does Lincoln Park still have the lake and if so do they still rent out the boats?  And is the merry-go-round still there and does it still belong to the Davis family?  I think I caught my first fish in that lake. I rode the street car to school for the hearing impaired in Hollywood.
My father not I moved the Alligator farm from LA to Buena Park in 1953.
Your web site is interesting. I detect a great love in you for the area.
Warm regards,
Ken Earnest 

It's rare to discover someone connected with the history of Lincoln Heights
and Ken's contribution will be appreciated in this community.
Many thanks Ken!

Special Note:
It was Ken's father that moved the Alligator farm from LA to Buena Park in 1953
and not Ken as documented on other web sites or other newspaper articles.

Photo collection below by Ken Earnest the Grandson of one of the founders of the Alligator and Ostrich Farms in Lincoln Heights.


The man in the ostrich buggy is my father.

Francis V. Earnest Sr.
1936

My father as a child sitting on an alligator.

Close up.
 The original site for the Alligator Farm was next door to the Selig Motion 
Picture Studio then moved up the street on Mission Road.

This is me at the Farm.
 Bottled Cokes in a tub of ice were sold on the honor system for a nickel, truly a different time period.

Also me.
 Some of these postcards were printed for sale at the Farm. I seen some of these before. I always wondered who were these folks.
Now we know!  j.a.

 

My postcard images.

Ross Allen's Reptile Institute in Silver Springs Ocala Florida
 
 
 
 

 
  This is David Manley, circa 1950. (5/29/01).
At my age I am glad to remember that it's me in the picture...all I do remember is that the farm was located across the street from Lincoln Park...I remember crossing a small bridge spanning over a large pond with alligators in it at the entrance...they'd eat anything or anyone thrown at them...as you can see, the alligator I'm sitting on has its mouth strapped shut...anyway, I remember that I was really sorry when the farm moved across the street from Knott's Berry Farm...that was when it cost a dime to get into Knott's...wish I did have more pictures but I'm sure someone out there will send some in...Thanks for the web site and the memories it stirs -David- Thanks David j.a.

 
     Almost 100 years ago, Lincoln Heights was a popular weekend getaway destination for city weary Angelenos ready for a walk on the wild side. They crossed wooden bridges over the Los Angeles River to visit Southern California's first and largest zoological attraction: the California Alligator Farm.

     In 1907, when most Southern Californians thought alligator was a kind of handbag or boot, Francis Earnest, a one-time mining camp cook, and partner "Alligator" Joe Campbell amassed a small fortune by putting hundreds of the snappy reptiles on display.

     Their alligator farm was located on Mission Road and Lincoln Park Avenue, next door to the Ostrich Farm, which Earnest had opened the year before. Visitors entered through a white stucco building with a narrow, two-story columned portico, where they paid 25 cents admission, and had the opportunity to buy all sorts of reptilian trinkets, including--naturally--rubber alligators.

     The real slash jawed animals were kept out back segregated according to size because the larger ones would eat the smaller ones in a series of 20 ponds. They ranged in size from a few inches to 13 feet and in age from the newly born to several hundred-year-old elders, assuming one believed the farm's promotional literature.

     Two years later, Earnest bought out his partner and soon began to add iguanas from South America and 2-foot-long chuckwalla lizards, which expand their lungs until they are twice their normal size. They were particularly prone to such blowups when the gators threatened to swallow them.

     A fence designed to keep animals in and gator-snatchers out surrounded the whole farm. But there was a lot of two-way traffic through the barrier.

     The alligator sanctuary was a popular site for fraternity pranks. Pledges often were caught during local universities' hell week attempting to steal a snapping gator. But only a few alligators bit the hand that stole them. Other times, flood waters from heavy rains or the nearby reservoir made escape easy for the gators, many of whom ended up taking a dip at nearby Lincoln Park Lake.

     By 1915, another attraction moved to the area, when movie producer William Selig transformed 32 acres adjoining the park into a private zoo. Several Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weismuller were filmed around Lincoln Park Lake, but it was Billy, reputed to be the oldest alligator in captivity, who captured most of the attention. Visitors held their breath when veteran alligator wrestler George Link wrestled Billy and other 200-300 pound gators underwater in the 1920s.

     Billy became a kind of star in his own right nearly all the large alligator jaws seen on movie screens around the world between the teens and 1940s were his. Directors were fond of the reliable reptile because his jaws automatically opened when a chunk of meat dangled above his head just above the camera's field of vision. Billy enjoyed showing off by taking tour guides and other types of animals for a ride on his broad back and performing tricks for gawkers by sliding down the chutes. 

     For almost half a century, more than 1,000 belligerently restless gators annoyed their human neighbors with their frequent nocturnal bellowing reportedly in B-flat--and by their repeated forays into neighborhood canals, backyards and occasionally swimming pools.

     But Lincoln Heights' reptile problem ended in 1953, when Earnest's grandson, Ken Earnest, moved his legacy of four legged handbags-in-waiting to bucolic Buena Park. Not long after the park closed, the rock group Bill Haley and the Comets recorded the top 10 hit "See You Later, Alligator."

     Now Los Angeles' memories of what constituted the city's wildlife are kept alive only in a few dusty books, in collections of antique postcards and by a single pictorial tile set into a Pershing Square bench at 5th and Hill streets.

     The farm in Buena Park beset by dwindling attendance and an expired lease closed and moved its animals to a private preserve in Florida. The closing was a five day rodeo catching all of the alligators, crocodiles and caiman. They were flown by a 707 to a private estate in Florida. Arthur Jones, the inventor of "Nautilus" sports equipment, was their host. The two-acre park at 7671 La Palma Ave. was popular for years, drawing 130,000 a year at its peak. By 1984, attendance had dipped to 50,000. And in 1986, in a move seen by many as the beginning of the "new wave" of entertainment outlets along Beach Boulevard, Medieval Times opened its doors to rave reviews and very large audiences.

     The site of the Buena Park Alligator Farm is now home to tourists. In 1992 a 205 room Radisson Suites hotel was built on this site, which has been vacant for several years.

From the LA Times & edited.
August 3, 1997
 L.A. Scene / The City Then and Now
 Reptile Farm Gave L.A. a Wild Time


Buena Park Alligator Farm Souvenirs


 
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