Local history: The Long Beach Ostrich Farm

Local History is a weekly feature that looks at the people, places and events of Long Beach’s past. Have a question or a piece of history you want us to explore? Email [email protected].

The Long Beach Ostrich Farm opened in 1907 on a 2.5-acre plot of land on American Avenue—now Long Beach Boulevard—between 14th and 15th streets, an area a bit out in the country in those days.

The farm was both exotic and extravagant for its time. Visitors paid 15 cents to gain admission, and those with a fat wallet and an inordinate fondness for feathers—mostly women or milliners—would pony up $5 for a fancy ostrich plume, which the farm’s advertisements claimed “looks like a $10 ostrich plume.” In 1912, $5 was serious money, the equivalent of more than $150 in 2023.

The ostrich farm wasn’t in the business of selling birds to eat; it was solely interested in selling feathers for hats, although it did put on the occasional ostrich roast when one of the birds fell victim to another ostrich, as would occur from time to time.

The fledgling farm started out with a herd of about 30 ostriches, procured from Arizona, which has an ideal climate for breeding the birds, but not raising them to the sort of adulthood where their feathers would be valuable. The dry heat in the Copper State made the feathers brittle and inflexible, while Long Beach’s weather was deemed ideal for fine ostrich plumage that would look great in a hat.

The ostrich farm would not only sell ostrich plumes. They’d dye them any color, exhorting the public to bring in their plumeless hats so the farm could dye the feather to match. And at the price of plumage, you didn’t toss the feather when it got a little shabby; the farm could repair and clean it.

Visitors to the ostrich farm would swing by the Mission-style shop to peruse the exhibit of feathers and curios for sale or just relax in the farm’s park-like setting, getting their 15 cents’ worth.

Eventually, during the ostrich farm’s later years, its herd grew to more than 100 birds on exhibit as the facility had added an incubator and was growing its own birds.

An annual and somewhat popular event was the farm’s “plucking season,” when workers would trim the valuable plumage from the birds and allow the public to witness the spectacle. The farm advertised heavily for the event, and a story in the Jan. 18, 1913 Press-Telegram tried to drum up interest by teasing the possibility of bird-on-man violence:

“There are several cross birds in the local herd and things are expected to be interesting,” according to the paper’s story.

“A full-grown bird has been known to break a two-inch oak plank with one blow of its foot, and shoeing mules or playing football is said to be a very mild and tame sort of sport compared to plucking ostriches.”

The Long Beach Ostrich Farm, though, wasn’t the runaway success its owners had hoped for, and after four years of constantly facing financial problems, the place packed it up and moved down the coast to Capistrano, where the birds would have to compete only with the swallows and enjoyed several more years of fame when the owner of that farm drew crowds to watch—and perhaps make a small wager on—ostrich races on Capistrano Beach.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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