Saturday, January 17, 2015

Catalina, California - 1958

Let's go to Santa Catalina Island (or just "Catalina" to her friends)! It is one of the Channel Island of California, and is located about 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles - a mere half hour by ferry. The island itself is about 22 miles long and 8 miles across, and Mount Orizaba is its highest point at 2,097 feet. 

I love this first shot of the steamship "SS Catalina", also known as "The Great White Steamer". From 1924 until 1975, it carried passengers to and from the island; the Steamship Historical Society of America says that the Catalina has carried more passengers than ANY other vehicle anywhere - an estimated 25 million people. (I have to wonder if the Disneyland Railroad has carried more, but maybe amusement park rides don't count). It also served as a troop transport during WWII. In its later years it fell victim to neglect, and was finally scrapped in 2009.

Here's another shot showing the SS Catalina moored in the harbor of Avalon, the island's only incorporated city (with a population under 4000). A trip to the island is almost like a little trip to Europe, only everyone speaks Yankee! It didn't really become a tourist destination until chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. developed it starting in the 1920's. Wrigley also owned the Chicago Cubs, who used the island for spring training until 1951.

The most recognizable building is the Casino, built in 1928. Wikipedia sez: "With a height equal to a 12-story building, it was built to serve as a theatre on the main floor and a ballroom and promenade on the upper level. Movie studio tycoons such a Cecil B. DeMille, Louis B. Mayer, and Samuel Goldwyn frequently came by yacht to the Casino to preview their newest cinema productions. It also serves as the island's civil defense shelter, large enough to accommodate Catalina's entire year-round population. Within its walls is stored enough food and water for all Avalon's residents for two weeks". 

I mostly remember the famous glass-bottom boat tours, as well as night excursions in which the lovable flying fishes could be induced to soar when a brilliant searchlight was aimed at the water. This photo amazed me, since similar diving bell attractions could be found at the Long Beach Pike and Pacific Ocean Park. I never knew that one could be found on Catalina! Assuming that this one worked the same as the others, guests would be lowered under water, and then the diving bell would be allowed to pop up like a cork.

I have more vintage Catalina photos to share… I hope you have enjoyed your visit!


Nanook said...


Also of note about Catalina is it has the dubious distinction of being the last phone service in the AT&T telephone system to use switchboards and operator service - finally removed in 1978.

And of course at the Avalon Theatre - with its famous, 4 manual, 16 rank Page Theatre Pipe Organ.

It's been a long while since I've visited, and more than likely I resembled one of those lads in the last image - striped tee shirt, and all.

Thanks, Major.

Alonzo P Hawk said...

Thanks for the photos today Major!

Going on my eleventh year in dirt filled Arizona I really miss the Pacific ocean and Catalina.

We used to hop the shuttle (with scuba gear)and dive casino point, dine on Buffalo burgers at the pier and after a full day ride back to Long Beach.

Great times and great memories, thanks for sparking them.

Irene said...

What memories these images bring back. Our family would sail over to Catalina on the SS Catalina every Summer during the 1950's and into the early '60's. I have home movies from 1952 with our entire family including Grandma and Grandma sailing over. Sometimes we would just go for the day and other years we would stay at a motel for a few days. My Dad who loved all things Hawaiian I think used to like to pretend we were going to Hawaii. My brother used to love horses and one Summer actually worked at the stables. He barely made it back to the ship the day we went home and my Mom was fit to be tied - plus he smelled liked horses!

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, the phone fact is something only you would know! ;-) I've never been inside the Casino, are there Art Deco murals by any chance? I love that stuff.

Alonzo, sounds like you have some pretty awesome memories of Catalina! Glad I could revive some of them.

Irene, wow, you ALSO have some great memories! I had a friend who just went to the island, and she said she was bored. I haven't been since I was a kid, and would like to check it out again. It looks so beautiful.

Irene said...

I went back in Nov. of 2013 for my Birthday (go to Catalina free on your Birthday promotion). I have to say, I was bored also. Things have changed so much. I did enjoy visiting the museum they have in the Casino. Lots of great old photos and history.

MRaymond said...

I remember going to Catalina a few times on the ferry as well as on a friends boat. Watching the dolphins play in the boats wake was awesome. My biggest memory of Catalina is spending a week at Cherry Valley when I was in the Scouts. Cherry Valley is a short hike north of the the isthmus. Good times.

Anonymous said...

Sailed on this ship once as a small boy. Visited twice as a kid, once as a senior in HS.

Last trip was a few years ago with my kids on a cruise ship. We all went skin diving, had a great time.

I like Catalina, but somehow rarely go. Have to rethink that.

Thanks, Major, and to everyone who posted memories.


Matt G. said...

One of these days I'd like to make it out to Catalina, but my main reason is to hear the organ!