History of Entertainment

Avalon Boasts a Long History of Musical Entertainment
AVALON – October 16, 2012  Since the turn of the century, music has been an important part of Avalon’s nightlife. This rich tradition of musical entertainment on Catalina Island continues with the annual JazzTrax Festival held each October for the last 25 years.
As chronicled in the Catalina Island Museum’s exhibition, A Democratic Dream: William Wrigley, Jr. and Catalina Island, Wrigley’s vision for the island included opportunities for the rank and file of America to enjoy the island to the fullest and be entertained while doing so.
Even before William Wrigley, Jr. purchased Santa Catalina and built the iconic Casino building, the island’s owners, the Banning brothers, saw the value in offering entertainment to the island’s visitors. They invested a large amount of time and money in an effort to make Catalina Island a bustling resort destination.
The Bannings first construction project was a dance pavilion. Completed in 1892, the round pavilion provided a place for musical concerts and dancing for the island’s visitors. It was also used as a skating rink and an auditorium. The Banning brothers made other improvements to the islands amenities – adding on to the Hotel Metropole, erecting a seawall and putting in cement sidewalks – to accommodate their growing number of visitors each season.
This growth in tourism called for an additional location for entertainment. As a result a large outdoor amphitheater was built in 1904. Often referred to as the Avalon Bowl, the amphitheater was located on the south end of Avalon and could seat several hundred people. Most summer evenings, visitors could enjoy musical concerts there.
On many occasions, bands would perform a concert at the amphitheater then move on to the pavilion for the dance. Visitors were often seen following the band from one location to the other. The Santa Catalina Island Marine Band was one of these bands – playing at the amphitheater and pavilion every summer season for over 30 years.
When William Wrigley, Jr. purchased Catalina Island in 1919, he not only made astounding improvements to the island’s infrastructure he also realized the importance of entertainment for those visiting the island. Wanting to increase Avalon’s musical offerings, Wrigley immediately started construction of the Sugarloaf Casino. Completed in 1920, this new venue included a bandstand and a large circular dance floor that could easily accommodate 250 dancing couples.
Wrigley’s vision for his island out in the blue Pacific would bring many improvements for island residents and visitors alike. The addition of attractions and steamships along with his aggressive marketing strategy helped make Catalina Island a resort destination known the world over.
By the mid-1920s, Wrigley realized that even the Sugarloaf Casino was too small for the growing visitation to the island. In 1928 he embarked on the largest construction project the island had ever seen and in 14 short months the Avalon’s Casino opened on May 29, 1929.
The world-famous Casino still stands today and remains the center of entertainment on Catalina Island and is home to the annual JazzTrax Festival.
Learn more about the Casino building and Wrigley’s dream for Catalina by visiting the Catalina Island Museum and their special exhibition A Democratic Dream: William Wrigley, Jr. and Catalina Island. This exhibitioncommemorates the 80th anniversary of William Wrigley, Jr.’s death and can only be viewed at the museum through November 26, 2012.
The Catalina Island Museum, its digital theater and store are located on the ground floor of Avalon’s historic Casino and are open 7 days a week, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, the museum may be reached by phone at 310-510-2414 or at its website: CatalinaMuseum.org.
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