Catalina Island Visitor Information
Fun Facts About Catalina
Since its "discovery" in the 16th and 17th Centuries by Spanish explorers, the Island of Santa Catalina has had a fascinating history. The original inhabitants, Tongva Indians, were one of the few sea-going Native American groups outside present-day Washington and British Columbia. During the Civil War, the Federal Government was so concerned about possible operations by Confederate privateers that the island was evacuated and a Union Army unit was stationed there for about nine months during 1864.
However, the real action on the "Island of Saint Catherine" didn't start until the 1890s.
Real estate booms and busts are nothing new to Southern California; the first such boom started in the 1880s. George Shatto, a real estate speculator from Michigan, purchased the entire island from the estate of late California land baron James Lick, right at the height of that boom in 1887. Building a hotel and a pier on the site of what his sister-in-law decided to call Avalon, Shatto was unable to attract investors and visitors to his resort. He defaulted on the mortgage, and the island went back to Lick's heirs in 1890.
The island changed hands a few times over the next thirty years, finally coming under the ownership of William Wrigley, Jr. of chewing gum and Chicago Cubs fame (in fact, Catalina was the site for the Cubs' spring training for thirty years between 1921 and 1951).
The Art Deco-styled casino in Avalon, built in 1929, was at one time the tallest building in Los Angeles County, standing 140 feet high. It not only has remarkably advanced acoustical features, it was also the first disabled-friendly building in the U.S., constructed with ramps rather than stairs - over 50 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The town's movie theatre has a "Mighty Wurlitzer" organ, which is played prior to each showing - just as it was in the late 1920s and early 30s.