Throwback Thursday | World Famous Lion Farm in El Monte

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Leo the MGM lion leaves his El Monte home at Gay’s Lion Farm for a world promotion tour for the MGM studio.

Gay’s Lion Farm in El Monte was a popular local area tourist attraction from 1925 to 1942, located at the southeast junction of Peck Road and Valley Boulevard (near the Interstate 10 freeway today).

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Vintage map showing the location of Gay’s Lion Farm (about 10 miles from South Pasadena).


PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Aerial photograph of the lion farm grounds.

The lion farm had over 100,000 square feet with seven arena enclosures to showcase lion acts for the paying public. The husband and wife team, Charles and Muriel Gay, ran the farm together. They billed their unique attraction as “the farm extraordinary,” and it did not disappoint.

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PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Gay’s Lion Farm brochure.
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Owners of the lion farm, Muriel and Charles Gay. 

Charles Gay would ride lions bareback – demonstrating his mastery of man over beast. He suffered severe lion bites during his career but managed to survive the worst of them.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Charles Gay riding “Pluto.”
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | More than a dozen two-year-old males stand ready to “stare down” guests as pass by the enclosure.

Gay’s Lion Farm drew thousands of tourists annually for nearly 20 years. The lions became celebrities in their own right – appearing in the popular jungle and Tarzan movies.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | “Slats” from Gay’s Lion Farm used for the original MGM trademark.
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Soundcheck for the famous MGM’s lion roar.

When horse meat used to feed the lions was in short supply at the outbreak of WWII, Charles and Muriel Gay announced they were temporarily closing the farm. After the war, however, their farm never reopened.

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.