This Day in Local History - Coronado Beach Goes to the Birds

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On this day in 1887, The Coronado Beach Company signed a contract with E.J. Johnson of the American Ostrich Company to bring ostriches to Coronado. E.J. Johnson had imported the birds from South Africa and had a larger ostrich farm in Fallbrook. The Coronado Ostrich Farm was located between 9th and 10th Streets and “A” and “B” Avenues.

"The ostrich races yesterday at Coronado track were witnessed by quite a crowd. Napoleon, the famous sprinter, drew a buggy weighing 280 pounds and a man weighing 137 pounds, but in spite of the handicap made a half-mile in a few seconds over two minutes. He was paced by a man on a bicycle. The sight was a novel one."    --San Diego Union, May 25, 1896.

"The ostrich races yesterday at Coronado track were witnessed by quite a crowd. Napoleon, the famous sprinter, drew a buggy weighing 280 pounds and a man weighing 137 pounds, but in spite of the handicap made a half-mile in a few seconds over two minutes. He was paced by a man on a bicycle. The sight was a novel one."

--San Diego Union, May 25, 1896.

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Crowds flocked to island for the popular ostrich races at the Coronado Track near the Hotel del Coronado. Children enjoyed the petting zoo where they could feed and ride the birds for just 25 cents.

While the Coronado Beach Company primarily intended the exotic ostriches as a tourist attraction to draw in crowds to see the new Hotel del Coronado and local real-estate for sale, it was also a highly profitable farm where plumes were prized and plucked.

When the Titanic sank in 1912, the most valuable cargo on board was a shipment of feathers. Only diamonds were worth more by weight than feathers at the time.

When the Titanic sank in 1912, the most valuable cargo on board was a shipment of feathers. Only diamonds were worth more by weight than feathers at the time.

Ostrich feathers for hats and boas were all the rage in fashion at the time. When the ostriches came to Coronado, the demand for their feathers had reached a fever pitch and the valuable plucked feathers sold for as high as $250 a pound. The birds themselves were valued at $1,000 per pair.

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The Coronado Ostrich Farm was a thriving business on Coronado until 1904 when it moved to larger space at Mission Cliff Gardens. The feather boom went bust by 1915 when feathered hats fell out of favor. The big hats didn’t stay on too well when in a Model T. And with World War I, women began trading in their feather hats for hard hats and nurses caps.

Kimberlie Guerrieri is a Certified Genealogist with more than 15 years of experience helping people discover their family histories and solve some cool mysteries. When she’s not researching families, you can find her researching history. Sometimes at the Coronado Historical Society where she is a volunteer research librarian.