Catalina Island News

Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden Celebrates 75 Years

Catalina Island Conservancy

Seventy five years ago in 1935, Ada Wrigley began the planting of an exotic desert plant collection. The collection was situated just a few paces from the imposing memorial at the head of Avalon Canyon honoring William Wrigley who had passed away in 1932. Ada Wrigley's beloved cactus garden is now just a portion of 38-acre Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden enjoyed by nearly 50,000 visitors every year.

Although best known as the founder of the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, largest manufacturer of chewing gum in the world, Mr. Wrigley also played an instrumental role in the history of Santa Catalina Island. He truly loved the Island, and with undying enthusiasm and energy, brought numerous improvements: public utilities, new steamships, a hotel, the Casino building, and extensive plantings of trees, shrubs and flowers. Arguably, William Wrigley Jr.'s greatest legacy was his remarkable vision and plan for the future of Santa Catalina Island -- that it remain protected for all generations to enjoy.

His memorial, with its commanding view of Avalon Harbor, was built during 1933 and 1934 with the goal of using as many materials from Catalina as possible. Stones quarried on Catalina can be seen in the reinforced concrete construction -- the facade having been sandblasted to hide the cement and highlight the native crushed stones. The memorial rises 180 feet, and is 232 feet wide.

The blue flagstone rock on the ramps and terraces comes from Little Harbor, on Catalina's windward side. And the red roof tiles and all the colorful handmade glazed tiles used for finishings came from the Catalina Pottery plant, which was in operation from 1927 to 1937. Only the marble inside the tower was quarried off-Island in Georgia.

Mrs. Wrigley supervised Pasadena horticulturalist Albert Conrad, who planted the original desert plant collection. Santa Catalina Island's temperate marine climate made it possible to showcase plants from every corner of the earth.

During World War II, the Garden property languished. Following the War, William Wrigley Jr.'s   remains were moved from the Memorial to Forest Lawn in Glendale.

For three decades after the War, weeds and native vegetation claimed Mrs. Wrigley's exotic cactus garden and the Memorial. All that changed in 1969 when Mr. Wrigley's son, Philip Knight Wrigley and his wife, Helen Atwater Wrigley, wished to open the Garden up to the public. But before that could happen, there was much to do.

The Wrigley's needed someone who they knew shared their love for Catalina, and whose expertise they trusted and respected. In 1970, they requested that Mark Hoefs return to the Island. Mark had grown up in Avalon, but had left the Island for the mainland to start his own business as a state-licensed landscape contractor. Hoefs readily accepted the job.

Ada Wrigley passed away in 1958 in Pasadena, but would have been pleased to see how her garden was revived and expanded. The first thing Hoefs did upon his arrival was to clean out the overgrowth that had claimed the land. To honor Ada, he salvaged the larger, more beautiful specimens of the cactus garden, and planted 500 more exotic species of cacti and succulents.

In the meantime, Hoefs collaborated and brainstormed with Helen Wrigley as to what the remainder of the grounds would look like. Many plans were formulated - but only one made sense to Hoefs and the Wrigley family, and that was a native plant collection featuring the 100 or so endemic and native plants of the California Channel Islands.

Hoefs, along with botanists Steve Junak, herbarium curator for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden; and Dr. Robert Thorne, director of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden; scoured Catalina and the other Channel Islands, from Guadalupe Island off of Baja California to the Northernmost Channel Islands for seeds and cuttings to populate the new Garden.

The last years of Helen's life were spent watching the Garden's progress. When she and Philip would fly to Catalina every four months or so, she would Garden, where she would consult with Hoefs. She would then share their conversations with her husband. In Chicago, she would write letters to Hoefs with ideas and observations that helped guide Hoef's work.

In 1969, the Wrigley Memorial Garden Foundation expanded and revitalized the Garden.
A simple entry gate was built in 1971 along with a fenced perimeter of the lower Garden. Although the Garden was far from completed, that year, guests were invited to visit the grounds for the first time. All new underground utilities such as sewers, water, electrical and phone lines were added in 1972 and 1973. That was when the greenhouse, lathhouse and herbarium were constructed. The entry building that stands today was built in 1974. The interpretive exhibit area and the restrooms were added in 1985.

Hoefs became Vice President of the Wrigley Memorial Garden Foundation, and held that post until 1996 when the Garden merged with the Conservancy. He worked at the Garden until his retirement in 2008.

Today, the Garden is an exciting place to visit with the eight Catalina endemic plant species on display. Visitors can enjoy many interpretive videos in the outdoor Visitor's Center, and climb the stairs of the Memorial for a breathtaking view of Avalon Canyon and the ocean in the distance. Visitors who obtain a free hiking permit from the admission booth can continue on past the Memorial, and take the Wrigley Memorial Road that begins just to the right of the Memorial, up to Divide Road where they can see the other side of the Island, and on a clear day, San Clemente Island to the southeast.

Seventy five years later. Ada Wrigley would be proud.

The Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission Booth services are available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except major holidays.

Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors over 60. Children 12 and under are free. Conservancy Members are free. Joining or renewing a Conservancy membership provides the member with free entrance to the Garden throughout the membership year, as well as other benefits.

By Bob Rhein