Thursday, August 22, 2019

Souvenir Time

Kids who lived in Orange County had many fun things to choose from. There was Disneyland of course, and Knott's Berry Farm. And there was Movieland Wax Museum, and Japanese Deer Park, Movie World (with Planes of Fame and Cars of Stars), and last but not least, the California Alligator Farm. It was right next to Knott's, across La Palma.

My mom took us to see the gators a few times. There was just something about these reptiles that was so fascinating! I've always loved the cheeky "Drop In" slogan.

The smell of the place made an impression, but hey, it's a zoo after all. A creepy zoo! I remember alligators being coaxed to go up a ramp and slide down the other side, and the way the gators snapped at chicken carcasses at feeding time. Mostly they just basked in the sun. Another memory is of an absolutely enormous Nile crocodile, alone in his own pool (because he would probably eat the smaller gators and crocs). Thanks to the text below, and my own incredible math skills (1907 + 50 years) and my Cray super computer we know that this flyer is from 1957.

The place didn't just have alligators, oh my goodness no! Snakes, lizards and turtles could also be enjoyed for a satisfying afternoon for amateur herpetologists.

Due to lagging attendance, the Alligator Farm finally closed forever in 1984. Wikipedia says that the animals were moved to a private estate in Florida! Yikes.


Nanook said...


And the world bemoans the loss of such places. We could use a few 'snap jaw creatures' for fun and play.

Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

There's old Smiley. He's always looking for a handout! And I see Ginger, too. Watch out....Ginger snaps!

I made it to all of the other So. Cal./Orange County attractions you mentioned, but alas, I never made it to The Alligator Farm! :-(

Chuck said...

"...the animals were moved to a private estate in Florida." Probably Xanadu, to fill the moat.

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, or Walt Disney World's Seven Seas Lagoon!

Pegleg Pete said...

I particularly like that they try to lure you with the promise of "movie reptiles". When I was a child, Florida was full of alligator farms but my mother, being terrified of all reptiles, would never let us stop at one. Of course in Florida one expects to see alligators, but in Orange County? Having said that, I was in Normandy a couple of months ago and within spitting distance of the medieval island abbey of Mont Saint-Michel there was an alligator attraction; so the roadside reptile farm is by no means entirely extinct.

Andrew said...

I have been to Gatorland in Central Florida and really enjoyed it. They have the exact same thing where they make the gators jump for the chicken carcasses. It's too bad that we'll never be able to partake in the INTERESTING and INFORMATIVE tours that were once offered here.

Stu29573 said...

Sort of off topic comment Alert!
Many years ago I was at WDW riding the Liberty Belle early in the morning (a good time to get a nice, peaceful ride). As we cruised along the river a gator (about four feet long) swam up next to the boat and shadowed us for a while (kind of like a dolphin, but with a lot more teeth and a much grumpier mood). A woman next to me on the rail asked her husband, "Is that real?" He said, "No, this is Disney World, everything's fake." She seemed relieved. When we got off I told the cast member on the dock and he said he would notify animal control...

Stefano said...

A private estate in Florida, why not? Tippi Hedren has her own lion preserve in Sherman Oaks.

Thanks Major, I never visited the Alligator Farm, but did catch quick glimpses of it riding the Knott's Fiesta Wheel ride.

Irene said...

I love your story Stu! I messed with some kids once at Disneyland as we watched a cat. I said "isn't it amazing what they can do with autoanamatronics?" I had them going for awhile LOL

I went to all those places you listed too including the gator farm. Do we have pictures? Of course not. :( There was also a pottery place nearby that my Mom loved to go to. Now it's all those fast food/restaurant places you see on Beach Blvd. on the west side right before LaPalma.

Nanook said...

@ Chuck-
When you said Xanadu, I immediately thought of the crazy Xanadu “Home of the Future”, in Kissimmee, that was finally torn down a couple of years ago. (So much for “Citizen Kane”).

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, if you want “un-Disney”, then an alligator farm is just the ticket.

TokyoMagic!, hey, it is illegal to use those jokes! Now I’m going to have to go to court! I am amazed that you never made it to the Alligator Farm. So close to Knott’s.

Chuck, I couldn’t help wondering if “moved to a private estate” is a euphamism for being turned into shoes and handbags.

TokyoMagic!, TOO SOON?

Pegleg Pete, “Look Ma, there’s that alligator that Johnny Weissmuller wrestled in ‘Tarzan Goes Bananas’!”. Like people, some reptiles just have that movie star quality. Normandy seems like a very odd place to see an alligator attraction, but then again, they would certainly be a novelty.

Penna. Andrew, I suppose there’s only so many tricks you can make a gator do, and eating a chicken is one of them. I honestly wish I could have taken one of those tours, it might have been very interesting!

Stu29573, I assume that WDW was built when gators had been hunted to the point where they were endangered in Florida. Now that their populations have exploded, it’s nuts to think of them wandering around the property of a Disney park. A friend of mine thinks they should have crews who go around every night to capture any wayward alligators and ship them off to someplace far away - to be honest I kind of assumed that they already did that.

Stefano, movie stars! With their yachts and their wild parties and their lion preserves. I think it’s kind of neat that you could see the Alligator Farm from the Fiesta Wheel!

Irene, I suppose it’s kind of a tribute to the Imagineers when guests can’t tell the difference between audio-animatronic animals and real ones. Sometimes the fake animals don’t move, and people still think they’re real. I wonder if anybody else remembers the pottery place that you visited with your mom?

Nanook, when I think of "Citizen Kane" and Xanadu, I sure don't think of a "Home of the Future".

JG said...

Ha! Luggage on the hoof.

I remember signs for this place, but there was no way Mom would ever consent to a visit here.

Fascinating stories about the other similar places, thanks.

Major, I thought the same thing, "moved to a private estate" meant a fancy handbag shop in the Upper East Side Manhattan.


Nanook said...


Just Goggle Xanadu - Orlando, or Kissimmee and see what pops-up. (It was tacky, weird, and utterly-charming all at the same time).

JC Shannon said...

Sorry I am late to the party. Gators are the unloved of the animal world. They don't make good pets, they are aggressive and they are no fun to party with. But hey, back in the last century, stuff like this was popular I guess. Here in Montana, we have something similar only with Grizzly Bears. They are however, fun at parties and won't eat you if you bribe them with craft beer and vape pens. Thanks to Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

By the way, before moving to Buena Park in the 1950's, the Alligator Farm was originally located in Los Angeles, next door to The Los Angeles Ostrich Farm and across the street from The Selig Zoo, which I believe was Los Angeles' first zoo. It was a part of "Eastlake Park," which is now called "Lincoln Park" in the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles. The zoo also had a lot of "movie animals" including one of the MGM lions used at the beginning of their movies. The first Tarzan movie was also filmed at that zoo. In the 1920's, the man who owned the zoo was going to build a huge resort next door with an amusement park, movie theaters and hotel, but his plans fell through!

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, much to my amazement I’ve seen “Xanadu” before - perhaps in a magazine. Or maybe on the “Mid-century Modern” Facebook page. Either way, it’s sort of great in its way.

Jonathan, it’s OK, not all animals have to be suitable as pets! The fact that they are dangerous and “alien” makes them cooler. I just don’t want to get eaten by an alligator. Or anything else, come to think of it. Have you seen Grizzly bears around Butte? Bears freak me out too, I used to see black bears in Minnesota, sometimes too close for comfort. And they’re small compared to Grizzlies.

TokyoMagic!, Thousand Oaks used to have a camel farm and an ostrich farm, I remember looking down on them from the 101, right around where Jungleland was. Looking back, I wish my family had at least stopped by to see what was up with them. Thanks for all the interesting info about the Selig Zoo; I wonder what that resort was going to be like? I’m amazed that you have not mentioned Mr. Biddle and his pet alligators. Some fan you are! Was there an alligator-themed "Lucy" episode?

Nanook said...

I was among the "lucky folks" who visited Xanadu.

The Off to Florida episode, is about as close as Lucy gets to an alligator - if memory serves.

Chuck said...

Nanook, I had plumb forgot about the other Florida Xanadu. A film degree and at least six viewings of Citizen Kane (only one of them for a class) will do that to you.

I did get a chance to see that Home of the Future in 2004 when it was already the Home of the Past, a sad, grimy ruin on an unkempt lot. Wish I'd seen it sooner.

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, I can't think of any iconic lines from The Happiest Millionaire, regarding the family's pet alligators. Sadly, "I Love Lucy" did not have an episode featuring an alligator. They did have one with some very large dead fish that they were having to keep packed on ice in the bathtub of their hotel when they went to Florida. They probably should have written an alligator into that plot. It would have been hysterical, I tell ya!

There were apparently several ostrich farms around Southern California, including one in Pasadena. The farms initially came about, because of the popularity of wearing ostrich plumage in the early part of the last century. The plumes were expensive to import from Africa, so someone got the idea of bringing the ostriches here to lower the price of the plumes. The farms eventually evolved into tourist attractions.

Wikipedia has an image of what that zoo/amusement park/resort was going to look like and points out that it was planned more than 30 years before Disneyland was built. That image of the resort can be seen here:

The only reason I know anything about the zoo, is because a few years ago, I was shown a newspaper clipping from 1915, that my great-grandmother had saved. It was about how my grandfather and his identical twin, had won first place in a baby contest, which was held at the Selig Zoo. That sent me looking for more info about the zoo. The zoo is long gone and so are the ostrich and alligator farms that were across the street, but the land that the amusement park was to be built on is a large public park (Lincoln Park) with a lake. The park's tennis courts sit on the former site of the Selig Zoo and the street running along that side of the park is still named, "Selig Place."

TokyoMagic! said...

Ooops, I was wrong. The tennis courts also sit on the land that was going to be turned into an amusement park. The zoo occupied the land across the street (Selig Place) where there is currently a 7-Eleven and some other businesses.

"Lou and Sue" said...

Major - you and your friend are correct, in your thinking. WDW probably still does have crews that go out each night to catch and move alligators from their "tourist areas." From talking to some of the staff at the Grand Floridian, very very late one night in 1994, they admitted they had a boat go out each night to find alligators (by looking for beady eyes - just above the water line, near shore - that reflected back from their flashlights) and to catch and relocate them. I don't remember the numbers, but I do recall they said they found alligators regularly. Per some law/agreement, a percentage of WDW's land had to be left natural, to protect the wildlife - but the alligators don't seem to know what acres are theirs, I guess.

Today's post jarred my memory. As a kid, someone gave me a stuffed baby alligator (a real, "taxidermied" baby alligator). What a strange and awful toy, now that I think about it! Did this alligator farm sell them? Did anyone else have one of these?


Nanook said...

@ Chuck-

Can't remember the exact year I visited "that" Xanadu, but could've easily been in 1983, when it first opened. It was far from run-down then - merely an oddity in my book.

As for Citizen Kane... as both a film student and projectionist of many, many classic films in their original format - of 35 or 70mm - I've seen it and projected it several times. Now I own it on Blu-ray. Kubla Khan, indeed.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, how did you wind up visiting Xanadu?? Was it open as a tourist spot?

Chuck, I still remember the first time I saw “Citizen Kane” (and was not looking forward to it), and realized that it was terrific. Since then I’ve seen it at least three more times, and would happily watch it again.

TokyoMagic!, I just figured that the alligators would have prompted a mention, but I guess I’m just a bigger fan of the movie than you. Never mind that I have never seen it. Little details like that have never stopped me! Lucy + dead fish = classic 50’s TV comedy. Unless you have a frozen black heart like me. I’ve always heard that an ostrich can evicarate a lion with one kick, I wonder if they are dangerous to be around? Maybe they’re like big chickens, once they know you have the food, they love you. Thanks for the image of Selig Zoo Park! It looks very “Coney Island”, or maybe “Luna Park”. Of course it would have been long gone by the time I was born, but still, it would have been quite a place.

TokyoMagic!, I can never forgive your error, and have rewritten my will so that you no longer will inherit my “Wizard of Oz” plates from the Franklin Mint.

Lou and Sue, thank you for that info; there was so much furor after that child was killed by an alligator, my friend Mr. X did not realize that the park already had a “gator squad”. I remember seeing a TV show where they searched for gators with a searchlight at night. Very weird to see those glowing eyes! Wow, a genuine stuffed baby alligator, what a strange souvenir. I would almost want one for the sheer oddness. It seems like something Wednesday Addams would carry around.

Nanook, I’ll have to look up the Florida Xanadu on the interwebs. Presumably it was actually a place where somebody was going to live? I think they should remake Citizen Kane with Tom Cruise as Jack Foster Kane (he plays a lot of people named “Jack”); he inherits a newspaper, and rides motorcycles. Good idea? Or GREATEST idea?

JG said...

@Lou and Sue, the original French Market in NOLA (the real place, not Disneyland) has several vendors that sell various alligator parts, at least in 2016. Presumably from farmed gators, but who really knows?

I don't recall the entire animal on offer, but certainly heads and feet (as key ring fobs, no less).

I guess after converting them to alligator sausage and belts, the bony parts can be preserved somehow and sold off.

@Major, I have heard that story about ostriches also, kangaroos are reputed to have the same kung-fu power.


TokyoMagic! said...

Major and JG, I read that about how powerful (and I guess sometimes fatal) an Ostrich's kick can be. Supposedly, an ostrich won't kick you if it can't see you. So at the ostrich farms, they would sneak up behind them and put a sock over their heads, while they "plucked their plumage."

This KCET page even has a postcard showing two men plucking an ostrich with a hood over it's head, plus a lot of other interesting info and photos: