Tourists once flocked to the San Gabriel Valley for South Pasadena’s very own Disneyland. But it wasn’t roller coasters or movie characters they were interested in seeing, it was ostriches. The LA Times wrote last week about how the Cawston Ostrich Farm was the early 19th century equivalent of a major amusement park, and ostrich rides, animal viewings and souvenir plumes made it one of Southern California’s hottest tourist attractions.
Ostrich feathers were in fashion at the turn of the century, and businessman Edwin Cawston imported 50 ostriches from South Africa hoping to breed the animals and capitalize on the trend. He originally opened his ostrich farm in Norwalk, but moved to South Pasadena 10 years later when the area began to enjoy a boost in tourism.
But he didn’t stop the attraction at ostriches. After meeting inventor Aubrey Eneas, who had spent a decade perfecting a giant cone that collected and focused sunlight, Cawston purchased a large solar dish to pump water into his farm. The giant dish, 33-feet in diameter at its widest point, made Cawston one of the first pioneers of solar-powered technology.
The dish confused tourists, who failed to understand the new science behind the massive machine, but fascinated scientists and journalists. Even though solar technology didn’t take off in the early 1900s, and Cawston’s farm closed in 1934, Eneas’ design continues to be useful in energy development today.