Throwback Thursday | Feathers, Thrills & Spills!

South Pasadena's Cawston Ostrich Farm was the city's largest employer and so much more!

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection and South Pasadena Public Library | News | Scenes of the Cawston Ostrich Farm, South Pasadena

Back in the day, ostriches were raised for their feathers. Not to eat. Instead, women flaunted feather plumes on their hats, boas, and hand-held fans.

South Pasadena’s Cawston Ostrich Farm was the largest producer of ostrich feathers in the world. The extraordinary feather factory had a “chain of Cawston stores across the continent” with retail outlets in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.

Cawston Ostrich Farm sold feather fashion products to consumers at factory-direct prices. The mail order business alone accounted for most of the sales, and for a time the South Pasadena business was the city’s largest employer.

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PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection and South Pasadena Public Library | News | Cawston Ostrich Farm, South Pasadena (1905)

At the height of the ostrich craze in America, the farm became an amusement park – catering to winter vacationers seeking thrills in the California sunshine. Before Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland, there was Mr. Cawston’s Wild Ostrich Ride on the grounds where the Ostrich Farm Lofts is today. The difference, the bareback ostriches were alive! They couldn’t eat you like a Jurassic Park adventure, but they could kick you, or eat your shiny neckless, barrette, or brooch.

Throwback Thursday is written and produced by Rick Thomas


Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.