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. Among the famous animals raised on the Farm were Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio lions Slats (1924–1927, died of appendicitis and was stuffed) and his lookalike successor Jackie, and the celebrated comic lion Numa (1912–1930, died of cancer and was stuffed), named for the lion in the Tarzan books and a co-star in Charlie Chaplin's "The Circus" (1928).
The 5-acre (2.0 ha) farm with its thatched roof, African-inspired architecture (a likely inspiration for Walt Disney's Adventureland), was a U-shaped compound, with separate cages for each adult cat, a nursery, and a central caged arena where Charles Gay, with whip and gun, performed a classic lion tamer act for the crowds. Feedings were also a big draw, with a ton of meat being consumed daily.
In 1925, El Monte High School adopted the Lions name for its teams, and the Gays provided a lion mascot for big games.
Starting in 1927, the Farm hosted organized visits from men's clubs, such as the Lions Club and the Adventurers Club. These events centered around outdoor banquets set in a clearing among the animal cages, at which guests were served small samples of barbecued lion meat in addition to steak and chicken. An honored guest at these meals, toasted and encouraged to walk the length of the table, was Numa the lion.
When Greta Garbo first came to Hollywood in 1926, she didn't speak much English. Publicist Don Gillum arranged a publicity stunt at the Farm where the actress was to be photographed cuddling lion cubs, and in a stunt cage so it looked like she was sitting with Numa. Although Gillum told her what she would be doing, Garbo didn't recognize the word lion, and so didn't realize what was in store for her until she was almost in the cage, at which point she shrieked "Oh! Dos terrible animals!" But she was a good sport and posed for the pictures.
In September 1928, while the Gays were traveling in Europe, a trainer failed to close a runway while lions, Ike and Short-Tail were