Things to Do on Catalina Island

Explore: Catalina's Historic Theatre

A Journey Back in Time to the Grand Old Days of Movies

Avalon has preserved a bygone way of life, when seaside getaways typically moved at a more gracious pace in settings that fostered an air of serenity, ease, and gentle pleasure. One way in which you can always be assured of getting old-fashioned enjoyment is to go to the movies at the Avalon Theatre in the historic Casino building.

Some of Hollywood's latest films are projected on the big screen in the 1,184-seat movie theater that occupies the Casino building's main floor. Yet, everything about the place–the surrounding building, the auditorium's interior decor, and the historic pipe organ–conjures up the good old days when going to the movies was a glorious, even elegant experience.

On the bay's northwestern point, the 140-foot-tall circular Casino building itself is Avalon's keynote landmark. William Wrigley, Jr., had the Spanish-Moorish building constructed in 1928-29 as a tourist attraction that drew crowds in the 1930s and 1940s to swing to some of the most famous big bands of the era–including the Benny Goodman Orchestra–in the vast 10,000-square-foot ballroom on the Casino's uppermost level, the world's largest circular dance floor. To this day, musical performances and dances are held there, and you can visit the ballroom as part of a Casino walking tour. (Note, by the way, that the word "casino" in this case has nothing to do with gambling, referring instead to the word's more ancient meaning of a public gathering space.)

The movie theater itself, also included in a Casino tour if you can't catch a movie, will take your breath. Its high elliptical ceiling, covered with 60,000 individual squares of silver leaf, is inset with tiny twinkling lights to evoke nighttime stars. Murals by John Gabriel Beckman, who also painted those in Hollywood's famed Chinese Theatre, cover the walls with romantic scenes of the island. The full-scale pipe organ, however, installed to provide musical accompaniment during the last days of the silent film era, may be the most wondrous draw of all. Built by the Page Organ Company of Lima, Ohio, it includes 16 ranks of pipes (with 73 to 85 pipes per rank) in the ceiling lofts. The organ, now one of only four surviving Page Organs in the world, was added in 2003 to the American Theatre Organ Society's National Registry of Historic and Significant Instruments, and it is still played live on Friday and Saturday nights before the feature performance. And each year it stars in a silent film festival that raises funds for the Catalina Island Museum.

Going There
The Avalon Casino and Avalon Theatre are located at 1 Casino Way, an easy stroll from downtown Avalon and the harbor or a quick ride on the Avalon Trolley. Check's Calendar of Events for listings and show times.

The Page Organ is played before performances on Friday and Saturday evenings. Be sure to get tickets in advance for these shows during the height of the tourist season. And take a tip from theatre organ enthusiasts. If you want to watch the organist artfully work the console, sit towards the front of the auditorium and the left-hand side of the screen. But choose a seat farther back and more central not only to view the movie better but also to enjoy the optimum blend of sounds emanating from the pipes.

Time to Allow: Three hours.
Reservations are not required.
Prices and availability are subject to change.