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Big Birds & Passing Fancies

November 17, 1985|EVELYN De WOLFE

When ostrich plumes became the "haute mode" for decorating hats and clothing in the late 19th Century, large numbers of birds found their way to Southern California where it became profitable to engage in ostrich farming.

Around 1885, Dr. Sketchley, a naturalist of some note, brought to Los Angeles a collection of ostriches and established "The Ostrich Farm"on the Los Angeles River bank in the Los Feliz Ranch area.

Sketchley's venture was more of an amusement resort than a breeding farm, and the enterprising doctor soon did a thriving business bringing Angelenos to see his fine-feathered birds. He even provided a passenger coach service to connect with the end of the Temple Street cable car line.

Soon after Sketchley's arrival in Los Angeles, an Englishman by the name of Edwin Cawston, while on a tour of the Southland, was intrigued by a magazine article that decribed the possibilities of successfully raising ostriches. He returned to London to secure the necessary capital and in 1887 began shipping ostriches from South Africa to Los Angeles.

Cawston opened the second "ostrich farm" in Los Angeles, at Washington Gardens. In time he moved his farm to La Habra and, in 1908, located it in South Pasadena, where it held on as a tourist attraction until 1934.

Cawston built a brisk business of ostrich feathers that were still in great demand for muffs, hats and fans and for the next 30 years, other ostrich farms were established in great numbers throughout California and flourished both as an industry and tourist attraction.

As the automobile became popular and fashion demands changed, many Southland businessmen who had invested in ostrich farming found themselves holding a larger egg than they bargained for. Times publisher Harry Chandler, also an investor, discussed the predicament with a partner in a letter dated March 4, 1915: "The subject of ostriches has been sticking in my gullet. I'm afraid the ostrich enterprise is not destined to be a big success," he wrote.

"It seems to me that we have to do as we have at other times of our lives, just simply keep a stiff upper lip and compel success."

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