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Catalina Island Local History Information
Catalina Local History Information

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Zane Gray home overlooking Avalon Bay, c. 1930 One of the southern Channel Islands, Santa Catalina lies the closest of the group to mainland California. Its rugged landscape boasts peaks reaching 2,000 feet above sea level, while its beaches are limited, adhering primarily to the mouths of canyons. The tiny island has nevertheless been inhabited for nearly 7,000 years, with its original Native American occupants probably having paddled their plank canoes from the mainland's shores to settle the rocky land mass and develop a marine-based culture.

The Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo became the first European to visit the island in 1542. During the next several centuries, other Spaniards stopped at the island, but it was not until the late 1700s that life was dramatically altered for the island's native peoples, when Spanish colonization of the California coast began in earnest and most of the island's population, by choice or compulsion, relocated to the mainland during the following decades.

Front garden and façade of Philip K. Wrigley home overlooking Avalon Bay with the bay in the background, 1930sIn 1846, shortly before the United States assumed control of California and its islands, the Mexican government granted ownership of the island to a private citizen. Changing hands a number of times during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the island has belonged to the Wrigley family since 1919. Settlers on Catalina Island raised sheep and cattle in the mid 1800s, introducing a ranching industry that continued in some form until the mid 1950s. Mining and the occasional use of the island by the U.S. government during wartime have also colored its history.

Most importantly for its future, in the late 1880s owner George Shatto embarked on a campaign to turn Catalina Island into a tourist destination, planning and building the town of Avalon as the focal point of the island and hub of this activity. Successive owners have nurtured his idea, constructing hotels, golf courses, and new tourist attractions and encouraging hunting, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits, helping to make Catalina Island the resort it is today. For more information on Catalina Island, see the following sources:

Avalon Harbor, c. 1910

Website Links:

Aerial view of Avalon and Avalon Bay, 1933

Print Sources:

  • White, William Sanford with Steven Kern Tice. Santa Catalina Island: Its Magic, People, and History. Glendora, CA: White Limited Editions, 1997.
  • Ramming, Burney. The Story of Catalina Island. Catalina Island Post Card Co., 1996. (Available at the Catalina Island Museum)

Places to Visit:

Images:

  • Zane Gray home overlooking Avalon Bay, c. 1930
    [Courtesy of the Catalina Island Museum]
  • Front garden and façade of Philip K. Wrigley home overlooking Avalon Bay with the bay in the background, 1930s
    [Courtesy of the Catalina Island Museum]
  • Avalon Harbor, c. 1910
    [Courtesy of the Catalina Island Museum]
  • Aerial view of Avalon and Avalon Bay, 1933
    [Courtesy of the Catalina Island Museum]

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