Atwater Hotel, Santa Catalina Island

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Hotel Atwater remodeled, Santa Catalina Island, 2019
Hotel Atwater remodeled room, Santa Catalina Island, 2019

Hotel Atwater, Santa Catalina Island, started in March of 1920, the Hotel Atwater opened its doors on July 1, 1920 on Sumner Avenue. Constructed under the direction of William Wrigley, Jr., it was named in honor of his daughter-in-law, Helen Atwater Wrigley, wife of his son, Philip K. Wrigley. Originally, twelve of the rooms had private baths, and the remaining rooms had shared facilities. It featured a cafeteria that could serve 1500, said to be the world’s largest. It covered a square block of town. During World War II, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the hotel was used by the Maritime Service to house crews training at the Country Club, the Cubs ballpark and the Casino. Although the hotel suffered from a great deal of wear and tear during the war years, under the direction of Philip K. Wrigley, individual bathrooms were added after the war to replace the joint facilities shared by some rooms.

In 1995, during the hotel’s Diamond Jubilee year (75th), another extensive renovation took place. The south-facing rooms were remodeled with new windows,heating and air conditioning and new furniture, and two suites were added. The hotel, owned by the Santa Catalina Island Company, continues to serve island visitors in the 21st century. All rooms are located on the second and third floors and are accessible by stairs only.

In 2019 the Catalina Island Company reopened the Hotel Atwater after a centennial remodel was completed following a total transformation, bringing a new guest experience to the seaside town of Avalon, just off the Southern California coast on Catalina Island. On the cusp of its 100th anniversary, which originally opened in 1920, has modern amenities and a revamped design while preserving its roots. The hotel has 95 guest rooms and meeting and event space. The property is also proximate to the beach.

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In the News~

March 9, 1920 [TI/Avalon]: “The Hotel Atwater has been so named in honor of Mrs. Philip K. Wrigley, wife of Mr. Wrigley’s only son and the daughter of Mr. B. L. Atwater. For a number of years, Mr. Atwater has been the New York manager of the William Wrigley, Jr. Company.”

January 16, 1924 [TI/Avalon]: “The exterior of the Hotel Atwater is receiving the careful attention of a force of painters, who are brightening up its general appearance.”

July 15, 2019 []: “Historic Hotel Re-Opens on Catalina Island - August 2019. 2019 has been an exciting year for Catalina Island, as it celebrates the 100th anniversary of William Wrigley Jr.'s investment in the island, and this summer brings even more big news - the historic Hotel Atwater, in the heart of Avalon, will re-open in August after a highly anticipated top-to-bottom renovation, bringing a fresh new guest experience to the beautiful seaside town of Avalon. Named in honor of Helen Atwater Wrigley, wife of Philip Knight Wrigley (William's son), Hotel Atwater originally opened in 1920, ushering in a new era for Catalina Island as a popular getaway for everyone from Hollywood's elite to mainlanders looking to escape their hectic lives. While still holding on to its roots, the reimagined Hotel Atwater will offer modern amenities and an inviting ambiance inspired by the personal style of its namesake, Helen Atwater Wrigley. Located just a block from the beach, the hotel will feature a light and airy lobby that will provide comfortable seating areas where guests can gather for cocktails and friendly conversation, while suites will offer harbor or mountain views and an elevator, banquet and meeting facility will further enhance the guest experience. The Island Company was founded in 1894 by the Banning Brothers. The company was then purchased by William Wrigley, Jr. in 1919 with hopes of turning Catalina Island into a world-class resort destination.”

August 12, 2019 [Finance.Yahoo]: “AVALON, Calif., Aug. 12, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The Catalina Island Company announces the reopening of the historic Hotel Atwater following a total transformation, bringing an exciting new guest experience to the beautiful seaside town of Avalon, just off the Southern California coast on Catalina Island. On the cusp of its 100th anniversary, the completely revitalized property, which originally opened in 1920, offers modern amenities and a revamped design while preserving its roots as part of the Wrigley family legacy. "Hotel Atwater was the first major project undertaken by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. after he purchased the Catalina Island Company in 1919, and its reopening is truly a significant event in the island's history," said Randall Herrel, president and chief executive officer of Catalina Island Company. "Through thoughtful renovation, we're excited to be able to offer an enhanced guest experience that stays true to Hotel Atwater's historic beginnings, celebrates the centennial of Wrigley falling in love with the destination, and gives guests another compelling reason to visit Catalina Island."

Hotel Atwater was named in honor of Helen Atwater Wrigley, wife of Wrigley's son Philip Knight Wrigley. This family legacy is reflected in nostalgic elements throughout the hotel, from bud vases filled with fragrant carnations to complimentary splits of sparkling wine in every room, tributes to Helen's love of flowers and glass of bubbly she enjoyed every evening before bed. The new Hotel Atwater boasts island-inspired décor and updated amenities, all less than a block from the beach. The 95 guestrooms are bright and airy, with pops of bright coral and pale teal. The suites offer king beds, one and a half baths, a separate living space with a sleeper sofa, bar and desk, and views of the ocean, town of Avalon or mountains. Standard rooms offer king or queen beds. All rooms include high-tech modern comforts including digital concierge tablets, high-speed Wi-Fi and smart televisions.

A nod to Helen Atwater's legendary hospitality, the hotel's inviting lobby features welcoming seating areas to encourage conversation and draw guests in from the moment they arrive. Decorative elements including the original Wrigley family safe, books of family history and an accordion and harp to reflect Helen's love of music. New fully-equipped meeting and event space allows for gatherings of up to 65 people. With rates starting at $199/night, Hotel Atwater offers guests a suite of amenities and access to Catalina Island Company experiences. Included in the $30 destination fee, guests will receive a $40 food and beverage credit per night to be used at Avalon Grille, Mt. Ada, Descanso Beach Club and Descanso Fresh; access to Island Spa Catalina's Wellness Studio; beach towels and access to Descanso Beach Club; complimentary tickets for the Discover the Casino Tour and Glass Bottom Boat Voyage; use of bicycles to get around Avalon, and luggage service to and from the ferry terminal. More information about Hotel Atwater can be found at”

Re-opening of Hotel Atwater, Santa Catalina Island
Helen Atwater Wrigley's harp, Santa Catalina Island

September 14, 2019 [TI/Avalon]: “Hotel Atwater, namesake celebrated. Nearly 100-year-old hotel gets facelift, yet retains original style. One of Catalina Island’s landmark hotels celebrated its grand re-opening last week, while also giving a nod of appreciation to the namesake of the nearly 100-year-old Hotel. The Hotel Atwater was celebrated with a reception and ribbon cutting event on Sept. 5, allowing attendees to tour some of the hotel’s new rooms, conference room and lobby. The hotel closed for renovations in January and began taking guest by mid-August. While the hotel underwent substantial remodeling and modernization, the plans were meticulously designed to keep the spirit of Helen Atwater Wrigley in place. The hotel was named for Helen, who was the wife of Philip Knight Wrigley, the son of William Wrigley. Her granddaughter Alison Wrigley Rusack, spoke at the event, sharing stories of her grandmother and her impact on the family. “She was classy and gracious, and warm and welcoming, a little formal, but not too formal,” Wrigley Rusak said. Wrigley Rusak said that Helen was a small woman, but that she had a lot of energy and a lot of drive. If she felt something needed to be said, or done, she had no qualms about expressing those opinions to anyone involved. Wrigley Rusak said that trait earned her the nickname, “The Little General.” But she was also warm and inviting, literally. Wrigley Rusak shared a story of an incident where Helen and Philip were out in Chicago with friends to dance at a big band show. After the show, they went back to their apartment and one-by one, band members began to show up. Helen had invited them all for an after-show party. And that personality went with her from Chicago, to Catalina and everywhere in between. “Mana, which is what we all called Helen, was out there making friends with everybody,” Wrigley Rusak said. With her personality in mind, the hotel renovation attempted to preserve her legacy as best as possible. The lobby was expanded with lots of seating area, to encourage guests to gather for drinks or conversation. There is also plenty of power outlets to allow people to plug in modern devices, while enjoying the historic feel and the Art Deco style of the era of the hotel when it was built. The hotel offers 95 guest rooms, including suites with one and a half baths and separate living room space. Carnations are part of the hotel’s floral displays, another nod to Helen’s love of flowers and carnations in particular. Rooms also offer two complimentary splits of California sparkling wine, again a favorite of Helen. “We’ve tried to put a little bit of that personality in every corner of the hotel and just bring her alive, so the Atwater Hotel really is about something real and something authentic, not just the name of a hotel,” Wrigley Rusak said. The harp, owned by Helen, decorates the lobby, as does a family safe, which displays books on the history of the Wrigley family. An accordion, also owned by Helen, is being restored and will also soon decorate the lobby. But modern aspects have been upgraded. Rooms are equipped with digital concierge tablets, high-speed Wi-Fi and smart televisions.

Since its opening, the Hotel Atwater had undergone several improvement projects, but this was the first major renovation of the hotel, which will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of its opening on July 1, 2020. “Hotel Atwater was the first major project undertaken by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. after he purchased the Catalina Island Company in 1919, and its reopening is truly a significant event in the island’s history,” said Randall Herrel, president and chief executive officer of Catalina Island Company. “Through thoughtful renovation, we’re excited to be able to offer an enhanced guest experience that stays true to Hotel Atwater’s historic beginnings, celebrates the centennial of Wrigley falling in love with the destination, and gives guests another compelling reason to visit Catalina Island.” A release about the hotel stated, “‘D.M.’ Renton, who was tasked by William Wrigley Jr. with delivering the building in time for the 1920 summer tourist season—less than a year after Wrigley purchased control of the Catalina Island Company in 1919. Defying all expectations, Renton, who would later add Mt. Ada, the Casino Ballroom, the Wrigley Memorial and the El Encanto building to his long list of Catalina Island projects, proved himself up to the task, and the Hotel Atwater opened on July 1, 1920.” More information about Hotel Atwater can be found at

Restored Hotel Atwater, Santa Catalina Island, 2020

February 20, 2020 [Long Beach Post]: “At reopened Hotel Atwater, come for the resort-style getaway, stay for the wallpaper. If you’re not going to visit Catalina for its natural beauty, as a quiet island escape from city life, to commandeer a golf cart, or for its rich Wrigley history, at least go for the drunk monkeys. Just a one-hour Catalina Express ride from Long Beach, sitting, swinging and swigging bottles of vodka inside the recently reopened Hotel Atwater—chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr.’s first major undertaking after purchasing the Catalina Island Company in 1919—are several of the creatures seemingly up to no good on the walls of the men’s lobby restroom. It may be considered a charming quirk of the modernized building that, since its multi-million-dollar renovation was completed last summer, has been creating quite a buzz in the city of Avalon. Visitors stop by the hotel just to see the monkeys, said hotel manager Lisa Castillo—“We literally take full tours to the men’s restrooms”—and while the wallpaper doesn’t necessarily relate to the hotel’s 100-year history, it’s safe to say that island living and cocktail-sipping have long gone hand in hand. The hotel’s historian, for example, is also its bartender. Sean McAlpin, a Catalina resident of nearly 13 years who came over from Chicago and humbly considers himself “a student of the island” had plenty of stories to tell about the Chicago Cubs, and even the speakeasies that popped up around Avalon during prohibition. Did you know that, in the ’20s, the general manager of the Catalina Casino was fired because he started a little bar? Now you do. But, back to the hotel. When the Chicago Cubs would arrive in Avalon for spring training to much fanfare, “they would always have a parade that would end up right in front of the Atwater,” said McAlpin. Overseen by famed Pasadena-based architect, David Malcom “D.M.” Renton, Hotel Atwater was opened July 1, 1920 just in time to wow guests of that summer’s tourist season. The hotel once had a cafeteria on its ground floor that was said to be the world’s largest, and was used as housing during World War II. Now imagine, if your father-in-law named a hotel after you, how would you feel? Probably pretty special. Hotel Atwater was named for Helen Atwater Wrigley, wife of William Wrigley, Jr.’s son, Philip Knight Wrigley. Her legendary knack for hospitality, as well as her interests in music and horseback riding, can still be felt throughout the building. Before this latest renovation, the most extensive in the hotel’s 100-year history, a souvenir shop, The Steamer Trunk, and a Chinese restaurant, Mr. Ning’s Chinese Garden, took up most of the space of the lobby’s original floor plan, while now the interior boasts a larger, balmier atmosphere, complete with textiles inspired by the tropical island resort feel the hotel established when it first opened. Even if you’re not a guest of the hotel, it’s worth a gander. In tune with the hotel’s namesake, Helen’s harp sits displayed between the check-in desk and The Bistro at the Atwater. In seemingly perfect condition, you’d think the gorgeous instrument, built 100 years ago in 1920 when the hotel first opened, would be protected in a glass case but it’s out in the open for visitors to inspect the ornate, antique details up close. The only thing that had to be replaced were the strings. Then take a look inside the Wrigley safe. The 1,850-pound steel structure built in 1906, was brought from William Wrigley Jr.’s Chicago residence and stored in the Atwater offices, then moved to its maintenance shed, then the basement closet shop, for about 60 years. Before the reopening of the hotel in August, they cracked it open expecting to find it empty, but instead discovered all kinds of memorabilia, including family photos, some of which they used to decorate the hallways, said Castillo. And, fun fact, they tiled the Atwater lobby around it. Helen’s accordion and Phillip’s shoes will also be making an appearance, once their restorations are complete. Aside from the lobby, other major changes involve updates to all of the rooms, including making them “a little bit bigger, as well as the showers, just because in the 1920s people were really tiny,” Castillo said. Some of those rooms—there are 95 accommodations today—didn’t even have their own showers or bathrooms then. The original layout required a much more communal existence when staying, as in having to walk down the hallway to wash or do your business. But for today’s $124-to-$390-a-night price tag—depending on when you go and what size room or suite you reserve—even guests visiting just for the historical aspect of the updated building, probably wouldn’t be too happy about having to experience that century-old nuance. You may, however, desire to walk through the hallways for another reason, to experience the ups and downs of the original flooring. Underneath the new carpeting you can still see the original floorboards from when the hotel was first built, sanded down and stained for this renovation, but still with their charming “as-you-go-you’re-kind-of-on-a-wave” feeling, Castillo said. It’s a subtle touch, and you probably won’t trip, but don’t say we didn’t warn you. Now, back to the monkeys. As charming as they are fully inebriated and sipping martinis, some content with dangling from branches, smoking cigars with no hands, one thing is clearly not up to par, the women’s room art. As vibrant and eye-catching as its under-the-sea wall dressing is, it simply has not generated the same amount of chatter as the men’s room, so the hotel is considering an update that might reflect “some classier version” of the monkeys in the months to come, said Castillo. “Rumor has it, sipping kittens will be arriving in the women’s.”

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