Catalina Historic Landmarks
Historic Landmarks on Catalina Island
Catalina Island’s rich history can be seen in many of the buildings and landmarks that dot the town of Avalon.
Catalina Casino Building – The Catalina Casino is without a doubt Catalina Island’s most recognizable landmark. The round, Art Deco structure rises the equivalent of 12 stories, and is surrounded by the sea on three sides. During the day its white facade gleams in the sunshine, and at night it lights the harbor with a romantic glow. Built in 1929, the Casino – which is actually not a gambling hall but “place of entertainment” – played host to dozens of Big Bands through the 1930s and 1940s. Guests came by steamship to Charleston and later jitterbug on the huge parquet floor. They danced the night away to the music of Glen Miller, Harry James, Kay Kyser, and many others over the years.
The largest number of dancers ever in the Casino was 6,200 people dancing to the music of Kay Kyser, on May 8, 1940. Virtually every Big Band of that era played in the Casino Ballroom. Live broadcasts were carried over CBS radio from 1934 into the 1950s.
Although the Big Bands have long faded away, the Casino Ballroom still attracts crowds for celebrations of all sorts. Completely restored just a few years ago, the ballroom retains its original style—a lavish medley of rose-hued walls, black Art Deco reliefs, an arching fifty-foot ceiling with five Tiffany chandeliers, an elevated stage, raised seating areas around the dance floor, and a vintage, full-service bar in back. The outdoor balcony that encircles the ballroom overlooks the protected cove of Avalon Bay and Descanso Beach.
The Casino Ballroom is available for private functions, and is a very popular spot for weddings and special events. Visitors can also see the inside of the Casino Building on one of several daily walking tours.
The Avalon Theatre is also located in the Casino Building, on the lower level. The theatre shows first-run movies daily.
The Tuna Club -Founded in 1898, the Tuna Club is the oldest fishing club in the United States. The club’s main goals were to elevate the sport of fishing to its highest possible standard, and for the protection of the game fish of Southern California.
Located on the edge of Avalon Bay, the Tuna Club is a California Historical Landmark and is on the National Registry of Historical Places. Many notable dignitaries and personalities have been members of the Tuna Club, including Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Cecil B. DeMille, Charlie Chaplin, and Bing Crosby.
Green Pleasure Pier – Under the ownership of the Banning brothers who formed the Santa Catalina Island Company in 1894, Avalon flourished as both a tourist resort and fisherman’s paradise. By 1906, the beach was crowded with boat stands, launches, rowboats, people, racks of drying fish, and sea lions waiting for a handout! In order to relieve the congestion, a pier was built running parallel to the beach, but a storm destroyed it in 1908.
In February 1909, the Freeholders Improvement Association of Avalon applied to the War Department to build a pleasure wharf, which the Santa Catalina Island Company would construct and maintain. Permission was granted and the pier was completed in the same year. In 1914, the pier was transferred to the City of Avalon.
For many years, it has been Avalon’s official weigh station for sport fishermen. Seaplanes also landed at the end of the pier in the 1950s and 1960s.
Today, the Green Pleasure Pier is still a hub of activity. It is home to the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau’s Visitors Center, where you can get information seven days a week. You can also find tours, water activities, dive centers, and some great places to eat on the 407-foot pier.
Catalina Country Club & Golf Course – For 30 years, with only a brief break during the war years, William Wrigley Jr. brought his baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, to Catalina Island for spring training. The baseball field on Catalina Island was built to match the dimensions of Wrigley Field in Chicago. A clubhouse was also built to house the team’s lockers and provide a social setting for the players.
While only a plaque remains on the site of the field where the Cubs once played, the historic clubhouse still remains. Now known as the Catalina Island Country Club, the clubhouse is open to the public. It features a restaurant and bar and a great display of Chicago Cubs memorabilia.
Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel – In 1926, author Zane Grey built a home the hillside overlooking Avalon Bay. He spent most of his later life in Avalon writing and fishing. His home is now a hotel that still includes some of Grey’s original furnishings.
Mt. Ada – Mt. Ada is a six-room private bed and breakfast inn and the only hotel on Catalina Island to be awarded the Four-Star Award by Mobil Travel Guide. Located on top of Mt. Ada, the inn boasts breathtaking views of Avalon Bay and the town of Avalon.
Built in 1921, Mt. Ada is the former home of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. The Georgian colonial style inn has been meticulously restored and furnished to represent the time that the Wrigley family lived in the house. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Chimes Tower – Built in 1925, the Chimes Tower was presented as a gift to the town of Avalon by Mrs. Ada Wrigley. Located up and across from the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel, the chimes have been tolling on the quarter of the hour between 8:00am and 8:00pm since 1925.
Overlook Hall – Originally built in 1929, Overlook Hall was designed in the manner of an Italian chapel and served for many years as the community’s Christian Science church. Eventually closed, the building underwent a complete restoration in 2010 and today is without a doubt the loveliest hillside venue in all of Avalon. The upstairs sanctuary has almost 1,200′ of open space with heavy beamed ceilings, original Douglas fir flooring, spacious windows, and deck with sweeping views of the town and the Pacific. Downstairs was formerly a Sunday school classroom, and is now used as a Bridal suite. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.