Friday, May 4, 2007

Catalina--There and Back Again

Last Friday, I wrote a post about my introduction to Catalina Island, a grand little island 26 or so miles off the coast of Los Angeles. I had planned on writing about the island's history today, but I was a bit overwhelmed by the vast amount of information I came across. Basically, a blog post can't do justice to even a brief overview. So here's a casual look at Catalina history, and some links to further reading.

A grade school classmate's mom worked at the Phineas Banning historical residence in Wilmington, CA, so we took a field trip to the house. How does Wilmington connect to Catalina? Well, Banning established the commercial Port of Los Angeles. The wealth that followed enabled his sons to buy the island (yes, dude, they bought it all) in 1891. They weren't the first to own or inhabit the island, nor the last. They bought the island from a gent named James Lick, a California real estate mogul who had the good sense to invest in land before there was even a sense of worth about California property. There were developers at Catalina before Lick, and there were pirates, Portuguese explorers, and Indians on the island before them. (One account mentioned the Tonva tribe at Catalina. This tribe is also known to have inhabited land down the street from the place I grew up.)

Most people who travel to the island learn quickly that the Wrigley family (of chewing gum fame) bought Catalina from the Bannings in 1919. Their development and push to create tourism on the island is quite visible today (including the beautiful art deco Casino, where, alas, there is no gambling). The Wrigleys also owned the Chicago Cubs, and they brought the club out to the island for spring training occasionally in the 40s and 50s. The island grew as a popular destination until WWII when the military annexed the island. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the military was concerned about an attack on Los Angeles, and they saw fit to make Catalina an outpost and watch point. (The summer camp I attended and mentioned in the previous post used Navy land and materials. I swear my tent was used by WWII sailors, and it smelt like it had lived through a lot.)

Movie crews, tourists, full-time residents, bison and wild pigs followed. The island is sparsely populated, mostly due to the conservancy established by the Wrigley family. Next week I'll tell you how to get your family and your own smelly tent to the island for a little adventure.

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