The Catalina Island 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. Commissioned and built by William Wrigley, Jr, the Casino opened on May 29, 1929, just in time for the summer season. The Casino – which is actually not a gambling facility 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.
Measuring 20,000 square feet, the Casino Ballroom is the largest circular room in the world without supporting pillars. The greatest 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. 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 promenade encircles the ballroom and 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. The Casino is host to many of Catalina Island’s annual events including the New Year’s Eve Gala, the Catalina Island Conservancy Ball, An Evening with Oscar, the Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival and the Catalina Film Festival. Visitors can also see the inside of the Casino building on one of several daily walking tours.
The art-deco style Avalon Theatre is located on the lower level and shows first-run movies daily. The theatre boasts perfect acoustics and the original 16 rank pipe organ built by the Page Organ Company of Lima, Ohio.