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History of Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island has a long and storied history. There have been inhabitants on the island for the past 7,000 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. Catalina's history as a resort destination began about 125 years ago.

A Series of Owners

By 1864, after a series of owners, Catalina was entirely owned by James Lick, who was once considered the wealthiest man in California. After a few failed attempts at a resort development, 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, developing the city of Avalon and building roads into the island’s rugged interior.

The Banning Years

The Banning brothers 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 burned 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.

The Wrigley Vision

In 1919, chewing gun entrepreneur William Wrigley Jr. bought nearly every share of the Santa Catalina Island Company until he owned a controlling interest. Wrigley invested millions in the island, building infrastructure and attractions.

To bring attention and tourists to the Island, he made Avalon the Spring Training home of the Chicago Cub’s, which he also 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, Wrigley built the iconic Catalina Casino, which boasts the world’s largest circular ballroom. His son Philip Wrigley took over and continued his father’s vision after his passing 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 were filmed here. Hollywood filming continues today.

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.

A Legacy of Conservation

In 1975, Philip Wrigley, his wife Helen and his sister, Dorothy Wrigley Offield, deeded 42,000 acres of Catalina Island to the Catalina Island Conservancy, giving the Conservancy 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 that are found nowhere else in the world.