Santa Catalina Island was discovered in 1542 by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese explorer sailing for the Spanish crown. He christened the island San Salvador and claimed it for the Spanish Empire. Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino rediscovered the island in 1602, and since it was St. Catherine’s Day, named the island Santa Catalina. That was long after the Native American Pimugnans or Pimuvit and their antecedents had settled here around 7,000 years ago, as archaeological evidence shows. These were people of the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe. They spoke an Aztec related language and they paddled their plank canoes regularly between the San Pedro and Playa del Rey (Los Angeles County) mainland and the island for trade, particularly their soapstone for other items. The Pimugnans called the island Pimugna or Pimu. Of course, the Spaniards brought diseases which wiped out most of natives. Yet, there are people living in Southern California today who have Gabrielino ancestors. Eventually the island was transferred from the Spanish Empire to Mexico and later, to the United States. Santa Catalina is one of the Channel Islands of California.
Over the years the island served as a stop for the usual array of smugglers, gold diggers, pirates, hunters, the Union army, missionaries, a chewing gum magnate and sunbathers.
After a series of owners and failed attempts to establish Santa Catalina Island as a resort, the sons of Phineas Banning bought the island in 1891. Phineas Banning (1830-1885), financier and entrepreneur, was born in Wilmington, Del., moved out West, founded Wilmington, Calif., and the Port of Los Angeles. He operated a freighting business and stagecoach company. The Banning Brothers established the Santa Catalina Island Company to develop a resort. They built the city of Avalon and established beach areas, a hunting lodge, a guest lodge and stagecoach tours. Then a fire burned down half of the buildings in Avalon in 1915. The First World War had begun the year before, and hard times ensued.
The Bannings were forced to sell the company in 1919. William Wrigley Jr. (1861-1932), the chewing gum founder, born in Philadelphia, Pa., bought nearly all the stock in the company without having seen the island. This event recalls those who, sight unseen, invested in and thrashed through Florida swamp with large fly swatters at about the same time. William Wrigley’s view when he finally arrived on Catalina, however, convinced him to buy out the other investors to become sole owner of the Santa Catalina Island Company.
Wrigley invested millions in the island and in 1929 built the iconic art deco/Mediterranean Revival style Catalina Casino, which has the world’s largest circular ballroom. Besides the ballroom, the structure rises to the equivalent height of a 12-story building and houses a museum and a movie theater specifically designed for sound talkies. The island served as a military training facility during the Second World War and was closed to tourists.
Many Hollywood movies have been made on Catalina, starting from the days of silent film.
Today the descendants of William Wrigley Jr. continue to own the Santa Catalina Island Company and carry on his vision to develop Catalina as a world class island resort. Eighty-eight percent of the island is protected by the Santa Catalina Conservancy, a nonprofit private land trust founded in 1972.
The Santa Catalina 2010 census human population is 4,096; the buffalo population is maintained at 150-200. The 14 original buffalo were flown in to be movie extras in 1924. The highest peak, Mount Orizaba, is 2,097 feet (639 m.) above sea level. The island is 22 miles long and eight miles across at the widest point. Boats carry passengers across the 20-26 mile Gulf of Santa Catalina from the mainland to the island in an hour, with up to 30 departures a day, year-round. Almost no gasoline powered vehicles are permitted on the island; there is a 14-year waiting list to bring a car onto the island. Residents and tourists roam the island by golf cart, bicycle or foot. Buffalo roam the hills by hoof.
I love Catalina. We visited on twice, and I enjoyed being there more than getting there each time. Love walking the streets, taking golf cart excursions up the narrow roads. Probably what I enjoyed the most, exploring the island.
Thank you for the detailed history, Samantha, and the photos. An impetus to go look for my photos, take a few years back. Cool fact about the buffalo, too.
I loved driving around the island, too, Silvia. That there are buffalo there always fascinated me. In researching for writing my post, I found out that they give the surplus buffalo to the Lakota under the agreement that the Lakota will not kill the buffalo.
In my much younger days, I lived in California, but had no idea. Mostly due to my age and my funds! I love that there are buffalo and a waiting list for cars. 🙂 That mansion reminds me of the houses in Cape May, NJ.
@abetterjulie from http://www.persephoneknits.blogspot.com
Yes, Wrigley built a Victorian mansion on the side of a hill on Catalina. I’m glad that during the years I lived in SoCal I was able to visit Catalina. It’s a unique place.
Thanks for coming by!
Oh, I so enjoyed Catalina. I remember seeing the Wrigley Mansion, but never went inside. Another gal, Betty, commented on my “W” and she wrote about the Wrigley Mansion too with pictures of the inside. COOL!! Our senior class went to Catalina, then years later I sailed there. I dove off the trimarane to swim to shore. As I swam, I looked down and a huge Manteray glided down below me. Catalina is stunning. Thanks for the memories and the beautiful post.
Wow, Gwynn. You did more at Catalina than I did. We only went for a day. We walked around Avalon and drove a golf cart around the island and that was it. I’ll have to look for Betty’s comment on your blog.
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the memories.
I need a holiday after reading this post 🙂
Catalina is a wonderful place to spend even just a day, Gulara.
Thanks for coming by and virtually holidaying on Catalina. 🙂
Beautiful, Samantha. When I saw your post pop up in my cue and saw the name Wrigley, I immediately thought of Wrigley Field in I believe Chicago and of Wrigley spearmint gum, which I loved to chew.
Your photographs bring up so many wonderful memories. Even I have never been to Santa Catalina, the name Wrigley, I know.
Visiting from the A to Z Blog Challenge.
Patricia @ EverythingMustChange
William Wrigley Jr., the same, owned the Chicago Cubs, Patricia. I hadn’t thought of pursuing that same name research until you just now mentioned it. So, he owned Catalina Island and he owned the Chicago Cubs. Interesting person, and, for me, a fellow native Philadelphian. I wonder what else he owned? (Well, besides the chewing gum company. I do know he explored other businesses, earlier, which didn’t do so well.)
Interesting about photographs and how they affect viewers. Thinking I’d just post a few photos and say a few words became not nearly as simple as I had intended. I have learned a lot. I am heartened that my photos recall memories for some and introduce new places to others. And I am inspired.
What an extraordinary history of Santa Catalina. And good that people get about by bike or golf cart or just their feet, buff by hoof. And that they limit the number of cars on the island. Thanks Samantha! I’ve so enjoyed your series!
Thanks, Susan. From the mainland sometimes you see Catalina out there across the water and sometimes you don’t, depending on how far the sea mist that rolls in every night has retreated. I lived in SoCal for four months before one hot dry morning walking outside and, lo, there was an island out there on the water. It’s like they set it out there some days and other days they don’t, you know…? 🙂
Glad you enjoyed my series. It’s been a voyage into self-awareness that I didn’t plan.