Catalina Island News

D.M. Renton was a key to Wrigley’s Success in the Development of Catalina Island

Catalina Island Museum

The current exhibition at the Catalina Island Museum examines the life of William Wrigley, Jr., and how he transformed Catalina Island into a resort destination. When William Wrigley, Jr. purchased Santa Catalina Island in 1919, he did not anticipate the enormous challenges that lay ahead. The purchase of this island in the Pacific included a small fishing community that lacked infrastructure and a fleet of outdated steamers.

To tackle the infrastructure problem, Wrigley dug wells, created a reservoir in the Island’s interior and built the largest diesel-powered generator in California. He also renovated the fleet of ships that transported visitors to and from the Island. Massive building projects soon followed.

Frequent transportation of contractors and building supplies posed a unique challenge for construction on Catalina Island. To solve this problem, Wrigley hired the Pasadena contractor, D. M. Renton, as manager of the Santa Catalina Island Company.

The two met while Renton completed work on Wrigley’s personal home in Pasadena. Based on the quality of his work, Wrigley knew he was the man who could implement his plans for Catalina Island to become a popular resort destination.

While Wrigley spent much of his time in Chicago, he trusted Renton to oversee the Island’s major development projects in real estate development, public works, tourism and local industry, including mining and pottery production.

Starting in 1920, Renton built the Atwater Hotel. This 160-room hotel had to be completed in time for the summer season. To do this, Renton had machinery from his lumber mill relocated to the island to produce all of the furniture on-site. The hotel was built in combination with a cafeteria covering an entire city block that could serve 1,500 visitors and was billed as the largest in the world.

Renton went on to design and build Mt. Ada, a private residence for Wrigley on a hill overlooking the south end of Avalon, named after Wrigley’s wife.

He established a mine at Blackjack Mountain in 1923 and the island enjoyed a successful mining industry until 1927 when international ore prices experienced a drastic drop.

Constantly looking for water sources on the island led to a system of wells and reservoirs, which culminated in the construction of a 100,000,000-gallon reservoir, contained by the Thompson Dam. Completed in 1924, this reservoir continues to supply water to the town of Avalon via 12 miles of pipeline from the Island’s interior.

As a way to meet the demand for building materials such as roof and enamel tiles, Wrigley and Renton decided to construct a tile factory using Catalina clay they had discovered in the Island’s interior. Catalina Clay Products went on to expand their offerings to everyday dishware and specialty products as well. Production began in 1927 and lasted until Philip K. Wrigley sold the business to the Gladding McBean Company in 1937.

Renton’s wide variety of building projects also included the construction of a golf course, a spring training camp for the Chicago Cubs, the world-famous Casino building, an exotic bird park and more.

For over two decades Wrigley and Renton worked closely together and formed a remarkable working relationship. Wrigley often referred to Renton as his “hands.” But the two also shared a certain type of energy and enthusiasm for thinking ambitiously and creating something where nothing had stood before.

Renton’s final construction project for his boss was to build the Wrigley Memorial. The plans for the tomb used Catalina materials, flagstone and tiles, in a magnificent 80-ft high resting place that is now a part of the Wrigley Memorial Botanical Gardens.

Wrigley once described Renton as “one of the greatest men I have ever met in my whole business career. He is a regular he-man, and knows how to do more things and do them well than any other man I have ever met.”

Prior to his retirement in 1936, Renton worked briefly for Wrigley’s son, Philip K. Wrigley, developing the “Paseo del Encanto” (Promenade of Enchantment), which opened in August 1933. P.K. Wrigley’s goal was to preserve the spirit of old California.

Together Wrigley and Renton transformed Catalina Island into one of the world’s preeminent vacation destinations. To learn more about this transformation visit the exhibition A Democratic Dream: William Wrigley, Jr. and Catalina Island.

Commemorating the 80th anniversary of William Wrigley, Jr.’s death, this exhibition can only be viewed at the museum through November 26, 2012.

The Catalina Island Museum, its digital theater and store are located on the ground floor of Avalon’s historic Casino and are open 7 days a week, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, the museum may be reached by phone at 310-510-2414 or at its website.