Steamer Ship Pier
The original Avalon pier dates to 1887 and was built by George Shatto, an original owner of Catalina Island. It was located in Avalon Harbor between the Green Pier and the Catalina Casino, near where the Bluewater Grille is today. In 1920, the Santa Catalina Island Company, (under the ownership of the Wrigley family) expanded the pier, strengthened it and raised it, building it out to 460 feet long and 60 feet wide. The SS Avalon was the first steamer to use the pier. The pier was also used for sightseeing boats. In 1924, the SS Catalina, also known as the "The Great White Steamer," was completed and both steamers used both sides of the pier.
The pier itself had a railway track with large metal wagons that the workers would push out from the luggage room at the foot of the pier to the bow of the boat. Luggage was then off loaded and pushed back into the luggage room using the same tracks.
It was tradition that a certain amount of visitors were allowed out on the pier for the steamers arrival to welcome arriving passengers. Mariachi Bands played for the enjoyment of the passengers. During the 1930’s and early 40’s, the Big Bands frequently played for arriving passengers.
On the starboard side of the ship, local youths would jump into the water and swim out to the steamer once it had docked. They would call out “throw a coin” and hundreds of passengers complied. Catalina Island "coin diving" dates back to the 1890's.
In 1967, the old pier came down, the space was made available for boat moorings.
Santa Catalina Island Company historian Michele B:
During the summer of 1966, my friends and I were on the pier meeting the late Friday night steamer. As the Captain came in, we could see that he was not at the right angle and the bow of the ship hit the pier. The impact sent several people to their knees – including me and my friends. Several of my friends could see what was going to happen next – which was the stern began to swing away from the pier into the adjacent mooring field. Since my friends worked for the seaplanes that kept their skiffs at the Pleasure Pier, they ran to the pier, got in the two skiffs and raced out to the starboard side of the steamer. They spotted a panicked, young girl trying to untie her mooring and were able to save her as the steamer loomed above her boat. They then untied several other boats that were empty. As a result of their foresight and efforts, nobody was hurt and no boats were lost. The steamer’s bow continued to scrape along the pier cutting a good chunk out of it. The restrooms on the foot of the pier finally stopped the ship but not before it had crashed into the restroom wall.
The Avalon Harbor Department and city officials were concerned at what could have happened and started the discussion on building the “mole” for the steamer ships to off-load passengers, and a spot for seaplanes as well. (A mole is a massive structure, usually of stone, used as a pier, breakwater, or a causeway between places separated by water.) Working with the State of California, the City of Avalon was able to get the funding to build the Cabrillo Mole and tear down the old pier. You can still see some of the huge fittings from the original pier underwater near Antonio's.
The mole's design did not work for the steamer ships or the seaplanes. The steamers only landed at the mole a half dozen times before the steamer ship company went out of business. The Cabrillo Mole is used by Catalina Express, Catalina Flyer and cruise ship tenders.