Santa Catalina, often called catalina island, or just catalino, is a rocky island off the coast of the state of california in the gulf of catalina.The island was originally settled by Native Americans who called the island Pimugna, Pigna, Pimu and referred to themselves as Pimugnans or Pimuvit. The highest point in the island is 2,098 feet.The first Europeans to arrive on Catalina claimed it for the Spanish Empire. Over the years, territorial claims to the island transferred to Mexico and then to the United States.
During this time, the island was sporadically used for smuggling, otter hunting, and gold-digging, before successfully being developed into a tourist destination by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. beginning in the 1920s.
Prior to the modern era, the island was inhabited by people of the Gabrielino/Tongva people or tribe, who, having had villages near present day San Pedro, Playa del Rey, Los Angeles.
The Pimugnans were renowned for their mining, working and trade of soapstone which was found in great quantities and varieties on the island.
This material was in great demand and was traded along the California coast.
Archaeologists have learned much about these tribes from middens or ancient dumps where they tossed everything they no longer needed. These middens can today be identified by mounds of crumbled abalone shells.
The colonization of California by the Spanish coincided with the decline of the Pimugnans. They suffered from the introduction of new diseases to which they had little immunity and the disruption of their trade and social networks caused by the establishment of the California missions.
By the 1830s, the island’s entire native population were either dead or had migrated to the mainland to work in the missions or as ranch hands for the many private land owners.
Pimu or pimugna or Pigna was actually Pinga who came by the sea from an island of gold in the far side of the great ocean in the west.
Tourists enjoying the waters off Catalina in 1889
Avalon Bay before the construction of the casino
The sons of Phineas Banning
bought the island in 1891 from the estate of James Lick
and established the Santa Catalina Island Company to develop it as a resort. They had a variety of reasons for doing this. They wanted Catalina’s rock to build a breakwater at Wilmington for their shipping company. They had also just built a luxurious new boat, the Hermosa
, to bring tourists to the Island. If tourism failed, this investment was at risk.
By owning Catalina, they would not only get their rock, but also money from tourists for their passage as well as everything on the Island. In the face of huge debt related the fire of and the subsequent decline in tourism due to World War I
, the Banning brothers were forced to sell the island in shares in 1919.
The Casino as it appeared in 2007
One of the main investors to purchase shares from the Bannings was chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr.
Preceding his purchase, he traveled to Catalina with his wife, Ada, and son, Philip. Reportedly, Wrigley immediately fell in love with the island and, in 1919, bought out nearly every share-holder until he owned controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company.
Wrigley invested millions in needed infrastructure and attractions to the island, including the construction of the Catalina Casino
on May 29, 1929.
In September 1972, 26 members of the Brown Berets
, a group of Chicano
activists, traveled to Catalina and planted a Mexican flag, claiming the island for all Chicanos.
They asserted that the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty
and the United States
did not specifically mention the Channel Islands. The group camped above the Chimes Tower on the point above the Casino near Avalon and were viewed as a new tourist attraction.
Local Mexican-Americans provided them with food after they used up their own supplies. After 24 days, a municipal judge visited the camp to ask them to leave. They departed peaceably on the tourist boat, just as they had arrived.
On February 15, 1975, Philip Wrigley deeded 42,135 acres of the island from the Santa Catalina Island Company to the
The balance of the Santa Catalina Island Company that was not deeded to the Conservancy maintains control of much of its resort properties and operations on the island.
Silhouette of Catalina Island at sunset, as seen from the mainland
Since Catalina Island was never connected to mainland California, it was originally lacking in all terrestrial life. Any plants or animals that arrived on the island had to make their way across miles of open ocean. The original species to come to the island arrived by chance by blowing over on the wind, drifting or swimming over the ocean, or flown over by wing.
Catalina is home to at least fifty endemic
species that occur naturally on the island and nowhere else in the world. This limited distribution of a species may result from the extinction of the original population on the mainland combined with its continued survival on the island where there may be fewer threats to its continued existence.
The island is also home to a number of non-native animals, notably including the American bison
In 1924, fourteen bison were brought to the island for the filming of the movie The Vanishing American, though the scenes with the bison in them did not make it into the final cut of the film. Due to cost overruns, the film company decided to leave the bison on the island instead of bringing them back to the mainland.
Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Paradise
has made calls to the island every week since 2004, making it the ship to have the most weekly calls to the port, but left in November 2011 and was replaced by the Carnival Inspiration
. The ships anchor about 100 feet off of Avalon Harbor.
KAVX Avalon Airport, Catalina
The island is also home to the Catalina Airport
, also known as Airport-in-the-Sky, founded by Dick Probert and built in 1946. The airport is located 7 miles (11 km) northwest of Avalon. The 3,000 feet (910 m) runway sits on a mountaintop, 1,602 feet (488 m) above sea level.
Most residents move around via golf cart
. Because of these restrictions, there is no regular vehicle ferry service for visitors to take their car from the mainland to Catalina Island. Tourists can hire a taxi from Catalina Transportation Services. Bicycles are also a popular mode of transportation. There are a number of bicycle and golf cart rental agencies on the island.
Only the city of Avalon is open to the public without restrictions. The only major road into the back country is Stage Road. Under an agreement with Los Angeles County, the Conservancy has granted an easement
to allow day hiking and mountain biking, but visitors must first obtain a permit at the Conservancy’s office (on which they declare the parts of the island they intend to visit).
Hiking permits are free, whereas bicycle permits are available for a fee (as of 2006, $60 per person annual, $20 per person good for 2 consecutive days, helmets and mountain bikes with knobby tires required).
Catalina’s isolation offered good opportunities to experiment with new communication technologies throughout its history. Although not high tech, the first of these communication innovations was the use of pigeons by Catalina’s gold prospectors. Homing pigeons delivered messages to the mainland in 45 minutes, compared to 10 days to deliver mail from Isthmus to Wilmington by regular post in 1864.
Even today, Avalon Post Office does not match the airmail service enjoyed by the miners. Pigeons were used to deliver messages for Catalina residents until 1899.
1902, the first commercial wireless telegraph station was built in Avalon where the Chimes Tower now stands. By 1919, the world’s first wireless telephone system was installed.
Avalon beach in summertime
Bus tours are given of the interior. While tourists rarely have an opportunity to surf, two beaches on the “backside” of Catalina offer good waves: Shark Harbor and Ben Weston Beach.
Two Harbors, the smaller of the island’s two population centers, in 2012. Located at the isthmus of the island, north of Avalon, it is the primary landing spot for those who wish to tour the western half of the island. It is accessible by boat from San Pedro and by bus or boat from Avalon.
Author Zane Grey, whose works include The Vanishing American, built a home in Avalon, which now serves as the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel.
- Marilyn Monroe lived with her first husband, James Dougherty, in the town of Avalon for several months in 1943 before her husband, who enlisted in the Merchant Marine, was shipped out to the Pacific during World War II.
- General George S. Patton Jr. met his wife Beatrice (Ayer) on Catalina when they were children. Manny Pinga and his wife Jovy, together with Michael Bradley and Junio Agbayani took time in the island gallivanting with glee and amazement.
- Gregory Harrison is a successful actor/producer/director who was born and raised on Catalina Island and still has a home there. He is a third-generation islander whose grandfather helped start the glass bottom boat operation in the early 1900s and whose father ran the sidewheeler glassbottom boat Phoenix in Avalon for over four decades.