When it comes to alligator farms, many people immediately think of Thailand. However, in the past, the United States also had its fair share of large alligator farms, including those specifically designed for film and entertainment purposes.
The Alligator Farm was the brainchild of two men, Francis Earnest and Joe Campbell. They were passionate about reptiles and began breeding alligators from eggs. In 1907, they decided to open an alligator farm in Lincoln Heights, California, adjacent to the Selig Zoo and Film Studio in Los Angeles, with over a thousand live alligators. The Alligator Farm soon became a popular location for renting reptiles to the film industry of that time.
The alligator farm opened its doors in 1907 and operated for over 40 years. It housed more than 1,000 alligators, from baby alligators to fully grown ones, in over 20 water ponds, providing a comfortable habitat and entertaining performances for the public.
In the following years, the farm relocated to Buena Park in Orange County in May 1953 and continued operating under the name California Alligator Farm until 1984 when its lease contract was not renewed.
The farm’s four buildings housed over 100 displays of snakes and lizards from around the world. It featured snapping turtles, giant turtles, and a collection of over 1,000 reptile specimens, making it the largest reptile collection in the world.
The initial admission price was only 25 cents, and visitors could purchase handbags made from alligator skin at the gift shop or take photos of their children riding on the backs of alligators. At times, the alligator park was one of the most famous tourist attractions in Los Angeles.
An advertisement brochure for the alligator farm claimed, “Here you will witness hundreds of alligators of all sizes, from small as a lizard to massive creatures hundreds of years old.” However, this advertising may have been inaccurate, as captive American alligators typically lived up to 50 years under the conditions of that time.
The photographs taken at the alligator farm show people interacting with baby alligators in various ways. Young children can be seen playing closely with the baby alligators or even standing inside enclosures with fully grown alligators.
The entrance fee to the farm was 25 cents, and children could play and frolic with the alligator herd or let them run freely. Furthermore, the children could enjoy the experience of riding on alligators, sitting on specially designed saddles attached to the backs of the alligators and touring around the ponds.
Visitors could even experience the thrill of riding alligators, where children could sit on specially designed pull carts or directly ride on the backs of the alligators. One of the highlights of this alligator farm was watching the caretakers lure the alligators up a flight of stairs and slide them down a 5-meter slide before plunging into a water pool.
By the 1950s, the farm had relocated to Buena Park, but the novelty had worn off, and it no longer attracted people as it did before. Consequently, the farm was closed in 1984 as attendance dropped below 50,000 visitors per year, and the lease contract was not renewed. The alligators were then sold to a private land in Florida.
Overall, these photographs provide a glimpse into a bygone era when people could freely interact with alligators, and the alligator farm was a renowned tourist attraction in Los Angeles.