In 1907, two men, Francis Earnest and “Alligator” Joe Campbell, opened a Los Angeles alligator farm in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood. They called it the California Alligator Farm, and it was home to thousands of reptiles that visitors could interact with (including snakes, lizards, and crocodiles). Admission was just 25 cents. At one point, the amusement park was one of the city's most popular tourist attractions.
A promotional brochure for the Farm touted: "Here are to be seen hundreds of alligators of all sizes, from little babies, hardly the size of a lizard, up to huge monsters, 500 years old or more." In reality, alligators typically live to the age of 50, not 500. They fed the alligators chickens and ground meat. Alligators were separated by size because they have cannibalistic instincts and will eat one another.
Photos of the Los Angeles Alligator Farm show people interacting with the creatures in all sorts of ways. In several pictures, very young children can be seen playing with baby gators or watching them at a very close distance. One of the highlights of the Farm was watching the keepers lure the alligators up a set of stairs before they cruised down a 16-foot slide into a pool of water.
In 1925, the eight-year-old son of the owner, Francis Earnest, Jr., was playing with one of the bigger, older alligators when he was bitten on the arm. His uncle jumped into action, straddled the gator, and poked his fingers into the creature's eyes, likely saving the young boy's life. Junior survived with just a scar on his arm. Fortunately, there were never any Los Angeles alligator farm deaths. However, some gators escaped during floods into the surrounding neighborhood, and it wasn't uncommon for fraternity boys to break in and steal a gator or two.
One of the farm's most famous alligators was named Billy, who starred in Hollywood films. One of his skills was opening his jaws on command (when tempted by a piece of meat off camera). Other residents of the farm were turned into hand bags and briefcases. The farm relocated to Buena Park near Knott's Berry Farm in 1953, and by the '70s and '80s it had begun focusing more on education. A drop in attendance resulted in it closing in 1984.