El Monte’s Wild Past: Incredible Vintage Photographs Capture Inside Gay's Lion Farm in the 1930s
From 1925 to 1942 El Monte was home to Gay's Lion Farm, which was established by former circus stars. The farm housed some 200 African lions (including Jackie, one of the lions that was used to introduce Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films), and many of the lions were used in motion pictures.
Founders Charles and Muriel Gay were Anglo-French circus performers who arrived in Los Angeles in 1914. They established an attraction in MacArthur Park (then known as Westlake Park) where the public could watch Charles Gay working with three adult lions. The lions were trained as animal actors in the burgeoning motion picture industry.
Needing more room for their animals, the Gays found a large plot of un-zoned property in El Monte, east of Los Angeles, where in 1925 they opened Gay's Lion Farm, a public attraction dedicated to the breeding, training and exhibition of African lions. The Farm quickly became one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Southland, doing a brisk trade in souvenir photographic postcards.
At its high point, there were more than 200 adult lions living at the Farm. The farm closed in December 1942, when wartime rationing made it impossible to get the ton of horse meat required daily for the cats, and the lions were loaned to zoos around the country. But by the time the war ended, Charles Gay was too ill to reclaim his cats. He retired to Balboa Island, where he died in 1950. He is buried at San Gabriel Cemetery.