Catalina Island History
Santa Catalina Island has a long and storied history. There have been inhabitants on Catalina Island for the past 7,000 years. The Island’s history as a resort community spans only the last 120 years. The first Europeans to arrive claimed the Island for the Spanish Empire, it was later turned over to Mexico and then to the United States. The island has served as a stop for smugglers, gold diggers, pirates, hunters, the Union army and missionaries.
By 1864, after a series of owners, the Island was entirely owned by James Lick, who was once considered the wealthiest man in California. After a few failed attempts at a resort development, Santa Catalina was sold to the sons of Phineas Banning in 1891. The Banning Brothers established the Santa Catalina Island Company to develop the island as a resort. The brothers developed the city of Avalon, and paved the first dirt roads into the island’s rugged interior. They built hunting lodges, like the Banning House Lodge, and ran stagecoach tours around the island. They created access to Avalon’s beach areas, like Lovers Cove, Casino Point and Descanso Beach. In 1909, they built the green pleasure pier, which still stands today. All was going well until 1915, when a fire broke out, burning down half of Avalon’s buildings. The fire, along with the hard times and restrictions of World War I, forced the brothers to sell the island in 1919.
William Wrigley Jr., founder of the chewing gum, bought nearly every share of the the Santa Catalina Island Company until he owned the controlling interest. Wrigley invested millions in the island, building infrastructure and attractions. To bring attention and tourists to the Island, he made the Island the spring training home of the Chicago Cub’s, which he owned. Wrigley built the Catalina Country Club to house the team’s lockers and provide a gathering place for players. The team continued to train on the island until 1951. In 1929, he built the iconic Catalina Casino, which boasts the world’s largest circular ballroom. Philip Wrigley, son of William Wrigley Jr., took over and continued his father’s vision, after his father passed away in 1932. During World War II, the island served as a military training facility and was closed to tourists.
The Island was a popular spot with the Hollywood elite during the 1930s, 40s and 50s. It was also a popular spot for Hollywood filming. Many silent films was filmed here. Hollywood filming continues today.
In 1975, Mr. and Mrs. Philip Wrigley and Philip’s sister, Dorothy Wrigley Offield, deeded 42,000 acres owned by the Santa Catalina Island Company to the Catalina Island Conservancy, giving the Conversancy control of 88% of the island. The conservancy is the oldest and largest private land trust in Southern California. Catalina Island is home to 60 plant, animal and insect species found nowhere else in the world.
Today, the Santa Catalina Island Company is owned by descendants of William Wrigley Jr., who carry on his vision for building and maintaining a world class island resort.