Catalina Casino is located on Santa Catalina, one of California's Channel Islands. Santa Catalina is 22 miles (35km) long and 8 miles (13km) wide. The island was originally inhabited by Native Americans, it was claimed by the Spanish, Mexico and then the United States. The island was used by smugglers, gold prospectors and for otter hunting.
In 1919, William Wrigley Jnr purchased controlling stakes in Catalina. Wrigley Jnr was a chewing gum and confectionery magnate and one of the owners of the Chicago Cubs. Wrigley Fields, the Chicago Cubs ballpark was named in honour of him. Wrigley Jnr decided to build a dance hall in 1919 on a site known as Sugarloaf Point in Catalina. Originally cleared as a site to build a hotel, the actual hotel, St Catherine's, was eventually built in Descanso Canyon instead, leaving Sugarloaf Point empty. Wrigley Jnr constructed the Sugarloaf Casino on the land which served as a ballroom and as the first high school for Avalon. With a growing population Wrigley Jnr decided to build a larger casino and so razed the Sugarloaf Casino. Using the word "Casino" for its actual Italian meaning "gathering place" no gambling ever occurred in either Casino on the site.
First Wrigley Jnr expanded the building site, blasting the rest of Sugarloaf Point. The larger site meant that the new building would have an enhanced view of the sea. Wrigley Jnr employed Sumner Spaulding, an American architect and city planner, along with Walter Weber to design the new building. Under the supervision of Wrigley Jnr and David M Renton, a Southern Californian builder and business executive, the Catalina Casino was constructed at a cost of two million dollars.
Catalina Casino was designed in the Art Deco and Mediterranean Revival architectural style. Art Deco, representing luxury and glamour, was lavish by nature and used many pastiche styles, first appeared in France just before WWI. It represented a very modern approach to architecture. The Mediterranean Revival style, also adopted for the Catalina Casino, draws heavily on the architecture of seaside villas and palaces.
The circular building is 12 storeys high and was built to serve as a movie theatre on the bottom floor and a ballroom and promenade on the top floor. To reach the top levels there are ramps instead of stairs, something Wrigley Jnr modelled on a baseball stadium and believed to be a more effective way for large groups of people to move swiftly from level to level. The movie theatre was the first of its kind to be designed to play talkies, movies with sound. The theatre can accomodate 1,154 patrons and still has its 4 manual, 16 rank pipe organ, built by the Page Organ Company of Lima, Ohio. The theatre is expertly soundproofed against the ballroom above it. The Catalina Casino theatre has one large screen. Such movie moguls as Cecil B DeMille, Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B Mayer were said to have sailed over to Catalina in yachts, just to view their new movies in the luxurious cinema.
The ballroom on the top floor of the casino has a dance floor that can accomodate 3000 people. It is the largest circular ballroom in the world. An open balcony runs around the building and access to this romance promenade is through French doors in the ballroom. The circular Dome of the ballroom has outstanding acoustics.
In 1953 Philip K Wrigley (P.K), the son of William Wrigley Jnr established the Catalina Island Museum on the first level of the casino. Created to preserve the history of the pre-Colombian indigenous Island Tongva to the pre-war twentieth century history of his father's development of the island, the museum was moved to another building in 2016.
The casino has been used for many purposes over the years and still remains large enough to serve as Catalina's civil defence shelter. The building holds enough food and water to last two weeks for the entire population of Catalina. The interior walls retain the original murals of Art Deco artist John Gabriel Beckman. Catalina Casino won awards from the Californian Chapter of the American Institute of Architects for being "one of the outstanding architectural accomplishments".
There have been frequent rumours of paranormal phenomena in and near the Catalina Casino. The women's restroom on the mezzanine floor of Catalina Casino is said to be a hotspot of unexplained occurrences. Mysterious sounds, cold spots and a feeling of being watched have all been reported. A female apparition in period clothing has been spotted walking around the Casino. One woman had a conversation with a man, believed to be a ghost, who no one else saw as he walked away from her. A local couple went to the cinema. The husband left his seat for a moment and his wife felt something brush against her arm and assumed her husband had returned. No one was beside her when she looked but the seat had an indent like someone was sitting next to her. A tour guide setting up a slide show was confused when music started playing on its own. People have reported hearing music and people talking when the Casino is empty.
I love Catalina with its beautiful architecture and kitschy transport, especially the golf carts you can hire to travel all over the island. It's said to have a vortex and has a lot of paranormal activity in various places on the island. Santa Catalina is worth visiting and exploring.