Staff Adventure: Katie Journeys to Catalina Island

September 2013
 In May of 2013, my husband, Kyle, and I traveled to Catalina Island. Needing a break from the hustle and bustle of Fresno (but not wanting to travel too far from home), we decided Catalina was the perfect place. Never been there myself, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After four hours in the car, we boarded the Catalina Express from Long Beach for an hour-long boat ride to Avalon.   
Stepping onto the island for the first time, it seemed we were thousands of miles away from home, instead of just five hours. The diversity of people, the unique buildings, and the way of life on the island awed me. 
Catalina Island was named after St. Catherine. There were a few different owners of the island over time, most of whom tried to turn it into an entertainment/resort location, but failed. In 1919, Mr. Wrigley (of Wrigley’s Chewing Gum) bought the island with the same hope as the previous owners. He succeeded. In 1929, Mr. Wrigley opened the Catalina Casino. The original project was set for a budget around half a million dollars, but wound up costing about 2 million. 
The lower level of the Casino is the Avalon Theatre. Movies are still played there once a day. On the weekends, for an hour before the show begins, a man comes in to play an organ which was purchased and has resided there since a little after the Casino opened. This organ is one of three still in existence. It is the only one still in working condition and lives in its original location. When this organ was purchased, it cost $40,000. Houses at that time on the island were purchased for about $1700. Kyle and I were not able to witness the playing of this grand organ; however, we did catch the new Star Trek movie at the theatre. Just the experience was worth going. 
In the upper level of the Casino is a very large ballroom. At one point it was (and it may still be) the world’s largest ballroom. It is still used for weddings and events.  At this point, I know what you must be thinking – where are the slot machines? You won’t find any. The word “casino” at that time did not mean “a place of gambling”, but “a place of entertainment”.  The idea of gambling in a casino was not yet established. 
Transportation on the island is a bit odd. To own a full size vehicle requires a permit, which could take a while considering the waiting list is 30 to 35 years long! There is sort of an upside though… a full size vehicle is considered anything over 120 inches long.  So take your pick – golf cart, Mini Cooper, or Smart Car. Golf carts are the majority choice, but residents are only allowed one mini-vehicle per household.  One thing I can appreciate about this little town – they definitely figured out how to live the “little” life. They have tow-truck style golf-carts in case of a breakdown… or dare I say it… accident? And they only have one gas station that sits on the “far” side of town, which is only a mile or so down the road, but on island time, that’s a long ways! Did I mention unleaded gasoline was above $7 per gallon the particular week we were there? 
We found the locals were very nice, always suggesting their favorite restaurants or favorite attractions. Upon talking to one of the employees in a souvenir shop, we asked how she came to live on the island. Her answer was simply this: “When I was sixteen, I came to visit my grandmother during the summer…and forgot to leave.” Most of the locals who inhabit the island are only there seasonally, many are students who go to school in the Los Angeles area. 
One of the tours we took was the East-End Adventure where 10 passengers were loaded into an open-top hummer and taken through the eastern part of the island. We saw many indigenous plants and very little wildlife. Catalina is somewhat known for their Bison, not because of the population, but how they came to live on the island. They were brought in for the movie, “The Vanishing American,” by Zane Grey. Mr. Wrigley allowed the bison there on one condition – after the movie was completed, they had to be removed to maintain the natural state of the island. However, bison are rather solitary animals, which made it difficult to herd them and transport them off. So there they stay. 
On the same tour, a fellow passenger asked the tour guide about the crime rate on the island. He explained crime is almost non-existent. What would a thief do? Rob the only bank on the island and then run to wait for the mainland boat? 
Needless to say, Kyle and I had a great time. Before going, we were told Catalina Island forces people to relax. We found this to be true. We also learned a great deal and found that the locals take pride in preserving the island and its history. @import url(;@import url(asp.css);