Catalina Island News

This and That: Quirky Facts About Santa Catalina Island


Length: 21 miles
Width: 8 miles wide at the widest point and - mile wide at the Isthmus
Size: 76 square miles
Miles of Coastline: 54
Highest Point: Mt. Orizaba at 2, 097 feet
City: Avalon
County: Los Angeles

There is a long waiting period for residents who want to bring a personal vehicle to the city of Avalon (other than a golf cart). As of June 17, 2002, there were 1,591 people on the waiting list and the person at the top of the list signed up on February 9, 1989.

In 1924 a film company brought 14 bison to the Island to make a movie and left them behind. Today the Catalina Island Conservancy manages the herd and keeps their numbers at about 200.

The largest native land mammal on the Island is the diminutive Catalina Island Grey Fox.

The last time it snowed on the Island was in 1949.

As a teenager, popular golfer Tiger Woods played several Junior Golf Tournaments on the Avalon golf course.

Surface ocean temperatures around the island range from low 50's in winter to the low 70's in summer.

Average annual rainfall on the Island from the years 1950 to 2000 was 12.2 inches in Avalon and 13.8 inches at Catalina's Airport-in-the-Sky.

Actress Marilyn Monroe lived on the Island for a year and a half during WWII when her husband James Dougherty, a lieutenant in the Merchant Marine, was stationed in Avalon.

In 1924, sportsman and author of western novels Zane Grey built a pueblo style home overlooking Avalon Bay; today it is a hotel and the rooms are named after his books such as Riders of the Purple Sage and The Vanishing American.

Author and naturalist Charles Frederick Holder founded the Tuna Club in Avalon in 1898.

As a youth, famous WWII leader and four-star general George S. Patton Jr. spent his summers on Catalina Island.

Eight miles of breakwater along the coast of Southern California are constructed with rock quarried on Catalina Island.

The only poisonous snake found on the Island is the Pacific Rattlesnake.

From 1894 to 1898 Otto J. and Oswald Zahn conducted a pigeon mail service between Avalon and Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles.

Catalina Island is part of Los Angeles County, and Avalon, incorporated in 1913, was the thirtieth city in the county.

Catalina Island is part of the Long Beach Unified School District and enrollment for Avalon Public Schools grades K-12 in the 2001-02 school year was 739 students, including the 12 who attend school in the Little Red Schoolhouse at Two Harbors.

The Chicago Cubs trained on Catalina Island from 1921 to 1951.

Avalon's golf course was first built in 1892, making it the oldest course in Southern California.

There were once two piers in Avalon Bay, the Steamer Pier and the Pleasure Pier. Today the Pleasure Pier remains (first built in 1909).

Avalon's northeasters are winter storms with strong winds that blow straight into the normally calm Avalon Bay, causing large waves and occasional damage to boats and property.

Former U. S. presidents Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon all visited Catalina Island. President Warren G. Harding died just one week before his scheduled visit to the Island.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, visited the Island in 1923.

Sumner Avenue was named for Charles A. Sumner, partner of George Shatto, who owned the island from 1887 to 1891.

"Descanso" is a Spanish word which means "place of rest." A street, bay, beach, and club in Avalon all bear this name.

The Island was named for St. Catherine by Spanish explorer Sebastian Viscaino, hence the Spanish name "Santa Catalina."

There was once an exclusive gambling establishment on Whittley Avenue called the Pilgrim Club. Built in 1902, it burned down in the Avalon fire of 1915, along with the about a third of the town.

The City of Avalon Fire Department is headed by Chief Steven Hoefs. When there is a fire a loud siren sounds, (on 30 seconds, off 30 seconds, on 30 seconds) summoning the firemen and volunteers to duty.

The oldest house in Avalon is located at the corner of Marilla and Vieudelou. In French, "vieu de l'eau" means view of the water.

In 1929, Winston Churchill visited the Island just long enough to catch a marlin in record time.

The M. V. Phoenix, last of the island's fleet of paddlewheel glass-bottom boats, was originally built in 1931 and retired from service in 1991.

Avalon's Bird Park, which once displayed thousands of exotic birds, was closed in 1966. The birds were given a new home at the Los Angeles Zoo.

In 1925, Mr. and Mrs. William Wrigley Jr. donated the Deagan chimes to the City of Avalon. The tubular bells and console are currently housed in a bell tower near the Zane Grey Pueblo on the northwest side of the bay.

Electricity is generated on the Island at the Southern California Edison plant in Avalon.

Some of the many celebrities that have visited the Island include: Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, John Barrymoore, James Cagney, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Johnny Weismuller, Errol Flynn, Jean Harlow, Mickey Rooney, Clark Gable, Victor MacLaughlin, Orson Wells, Delores Del Rio, Judy Garland, Robert Mitchum, John Wayne, and Henry Fonda.

Locals refer to the East End and West End of Santa Catalina Island, with Avalon at the East end and Two Harbors at the West End (the length of the island actually runs northwest/southeast). The windward side of the island is sometimes called the "back" side and the land outside the city of Avalon is referred to as the "interior." From an Islander's point of view, the mainland is "overtown."

The U. S. Post Office does not deliver mail to Avalon residents. They pick up their mail in the Post Office Arcade located in the Atwater Building with entrances on both Metropole and Sumner streets.

Currently, Avalon residents have a total of 1,285 golf cart permits.

Many scenes in the movie Mutiny on the Bounty with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, were filmed at Two Harbors in 1935.

There are between 6 and 9 endemic plants found on the Island, a number that varies due to frequent changes in plant nomenclature and classification.

A small herd of black buck antelope was introduced to the island in 1967.

Santa Catalina Island did not convert to dial telephones until 1978. Until then, callers picked up the phone to talk to the switchboard operator who answered, "Number, please."

There were two men known as "Duke of Catalina." One was Leo Fishman, lifeguard and official greeter of Avalon until his death in 1977. The other was actor John Wayne whose nickname was Duke.

The longest playing band at the Casino Ballroom was the Jan Garber Orchestra.

Actor and stuntman Tom Mix, who played in cowboy westerns, had a home on Maiden Lane in Avalon.

In 1927, a seventeen-year old named George Young from Toronto, Canada won the Wrigley Ocean Marathon swim. He was the only entrant to actually finish the course, which started at the Catalina Island isthmus and ended at Point Vincentes on the mainland, and he won the prize of $25,000.

In the 1930's and 40's, major radio networks broadcast the popular Big Band music live from the Avalon Ballroom in the Casino to a nationwide audience.

In 1930, Philip K. Wrigley built El Rancho Escondido (which means in Spanish "The Hidden Ranch") where he bred Arabian horses.

The song "Avalon", also called The Foxtrot Song, was sung by Al Jolson: "I found my love in Avalon beside the bay..."