AVALON, SANTA CATALINA ISLAND is the main shipping harbor of the island, located at the mouth of Avalon Valley and forming a crescent-shaped bay terminated as either end of the curve by lofty promintories. The city of Avalon extends back from the beach above the harbor.
The bay was originally known as Timms’ Landing. Augustus W. Timms (c. 1825-1888) went to Santa Catalina Island about 1862 and went into the sheep-raising business. During his time, goats were introduced to help lead the sheep, however they multiplied rapidly and when they began to crowd out the sheep, they were shot in large numbers. Timms hauled water across the channel for the animals.
The name of the bay was changed to Avalon in 1887 by the sister-in-law of the island’s new owner, George Shatto. In the 1880s, Avalon was increasingly used by occasional campers, until a summer tent city was established in 1888 under George Shatto’s island ownership. The first large summer season began, with passengers carried from San Pedro to the island every day aboard his steamer Ferndale. In 1888 Avalon was made a voting precinct. The voting at the time was held in the Hotel Metropole. The first vote showed that 18 or 19 voters were there. The results of this vote were carried to the authorities on the mainland by Captain Wheeler on his schooner, Ruby. Through the turn of the century vacationers came to the Canvas City during the summer months. By 1909 the permanent population of Avalon had grown to 500.
In May 1909 the Freeholders Improvement Association of Avalon was incorporated, primarily to negotiate with the Bannings for needed improvements, and to deal with ever-growing complaints against the Santa Catalina Island Company. In 1913 by a vote of 132 to 88, Avalon was incorporated as a city within Los Angeles County.
By the turn of the 21st century, the resident population of Avalon was over 3000. In the 2010 census, the population was about 3,728 people. A five-man city council chose the mayor from among themselves, but Avalon citizens changed this procedure in 1988. The mayor is now elected directly by the voters for a term of two years.
The face of Avalon was forever changed on November 29, 1915 when a fire destroyed a large portion of town, including the Metropole and many other hotels, the Tuna Club, Pilgrim Club, main bathhouse, waterfront shops, and all other city structures within its path. Amazingly there were no injuries or fatalities reported. Faced with enormous financial losses, the Bannings took a trust deed in the amount of $850,000 to pay off debts and build a major new tourist hotel — the Saint Catherine.
AVALON: The shipping harbor of the island, located on the wash formation from Avalon Valley. The bay is crescent-shaped, with a shelving sandy beach, terminated by lofty promontories at each end of the curve. The city reaches back from the beach several blocks to a rather broad, arable valley. A road extends from the eastern end of the front street to Pebble Beach and from the western end to the St. Catherine hotel situated at the mouth of Descanso Canyon. The Coach Road to the Isthmus leaves Marilla Ave. at its first turn, near the Catholic Church, and the Avalon Valley Road continues Sumner Ave. across the Golf Links ending at the Equestrian Trail. Another road to Pebble Beach projects Beacon St. up the east hillside. In the center of the city is a rather high hill (Reservoir Hill), reached by way of Whittley Ave., whence is obtained a fine view of the valley and the sea. It is on the east and west hillsides of Avalon and the Pebble Beach Road that most of the incidental plant collections, of one-day tourists, have been made. [Millspaugh & Nuttall Flora of Santa Catalina Island (1923)].
» 1901 Holder, Charles Frederick An Isle of Summer, Santa Catalina: It's History, Climate, Sports and Antiquities
» 1903 Williamson, Mrs. M. Burton History of Avalon
In the News~
April 27, 1883 [LAT]: “Camping resorts… Catalina Island off San Pedro Bay, has its admirers, and attracts large numbers of campers during the summer season. Fishing is excellent in the waters about the island, and life in every respect is pleasant, the only drawback being the somewhat tedious voyage in a small boat to reach the island, and the total lack of shade trees for the protection of campers.”
August 1, 1883 [LAT]: “Catalina in flames. A wretched Sunday for thousands of people. The beautiful island city lying in ashes. Immense losses, but well-insured. Factories, churches, courthouse and many residences burned. On Sunday afternoon, on the arrival of the Wilmington train, the painful particulars of a terrible fire at Catalina Island were first learned. According to General Roley, who was first on the scene, it commenced in the Chinese fish oil manufactory of Ah Lie, who was smoking opium, and carelessly knocked over his lamp, the flames being immediately conveyed to a lot of open barrels containing refined oil. Ah Lie was burned to death while lying in a state of insensibility from opium… A ball was in progress at the time, and Manager William Banning hurried all the participants on board the steamer Amelia, which was then at anchor a few feet from town… The abalone factory soon met the same fate, while the adjoining art gallery, with its beautiful collection of gems in the way of paintings and sculpture, melted like snow…”
August 14, 1883 [LAT]: “The general opinion of the campers upon the article headed ‘A great fire at Catalina,’ written for the Times a few days ago, is that there is not the least bit of truth in it. Possible? Editor.”
May 16, 1888 [LAH]: “Avalon. Water piped from the mountains. Hotel now open. Steamer every other day. The season is just commencing as this favorite resort. Those who have not been there should go at once. It is the coming health resort and sanitarium. Bathing! Fishing! Boating! Hunting! To perfection. Liberal discounts to those building at once. Easy terms! A good opening for several different stores. C. A. Sumner & Co. Real Estate and Insurance Agents.”
September 8, 1889 [LAH]: “Do not miss the grand moonlight ride between the Isthmus and Avalon, Wednesday night, the 9th.“
December 10, 1889 [LAH]: “The steamer Falcon will run to Avalon Wednesday, December 11, 1889. A train to connect will leave the new Southern Pacific depot at 9:50 A.M. and returning, the steamer will leave Avalon Thursday, December 12, connecting at San Pedro with the 3 P.M. train for Los Angeles. Fare round trip from San Pedro $2.25. Tickets for sale at 109 North Main Street, Los Angeles and at the general office of the Wilmington Transportation Company, San Pedro.”
1898: 30,784 passengers ferried from San Pedro to Santa Catalina Island by year’s end. [http://www.mysanpedro.org/2010/12/december-in-san-pedro.html
September 14, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Yesterday was the biggest day, commercially speaking, even known on the island. The glass-bottom boatmen reaped a harvest, such as they have seldom had; restaurant and hotel keepers heaped their coffers with coin of the realm, and the curio stores hardly had enough stock left to do business with. It was a great day all along the line.”
August 15, 1897 [SFCall]: “Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, August 14. There are over 5000 people at this seaside resort these summer days, and every steamer from San Pedro brings from 200 to 300 more. The hotels are thronged, the numerous lodging and boarding houses are crowded and there are some 3000 people in the tents and canvas houses…”
1897: “Avalon is a tent city, which year after year, from June to September, renews its life. There are scarcely a hundred people left over in Avalon after the season.” [Blanche Trask. Field Notes from Santa Catalina Island in Erythea 7:135, 1899].
April 3, 1904 [LAT]: “Avalon, Spril 2. N. B. Stanton, a pioneer of the town, died suddenly this morning. While his wife was preparing breakfast, she heard a fall, and found him on the floor unconscious. By the time that assistance could be called life was extinct. Dr. E. H. Way pronounced it a case of apoplexy. In 1896 he was appointed postmaster. He had held that position since then… A son and daughter of Mr. Stanton live in Los Angeles.”
June 21, 1908 [LAH]: “Sheep raising is a growing industry at Catalina Island, the popular resort. Improvements at Avalon aggregating over $300,000 in value have recently been completed.”
June 1913: “…At Avalon, in 1870, when the [abalone] meat sold for five cents a pound, the green shells brought eighty dollars a ton. At the present time the green shells are sold at one hundred and twenty-five to one hundred and eighty dollars a ton, the black, at eighty to one hundred dollars a ton, and the red, at forty to seventy-five dollars a ton… Mr. C. B. Linton has succeeded in producing similar culture pearls by drilling a hole through the shell center, pushing in a round ball, made from the shell, and filling the outside end of the hole with beeswax and cement…” Edwards, Charles Lincoln The Abalones of California in Popular Science Monthly LXXXII:532-550 June 1913.
January 23, 1914: The first ordinance adopted by the City of Avalon to allow the collection of wharfage and dockage charges for the use of the City Wharf was set forth in Ordinance No. 23, enacted January 23, 1914. This ordinance provided a dockage rate of ten cents per landing.
February 24, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “The proposal of developing a water supply for the city of Avalon, had its inception in the Chamber of Commerce. At this time it was also suggested to put out a bond issue to acquire all public utilities now owned by the Santa Catalina Island Company.”
May 26, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “To the Honorable Board of Trustees, City of Avalon, California. Gentlemen. You are hereby notified that the amount we have been paying monthly to the City of Avalon during the dull season, as a donation to help defray the city expenses, will be discontinued on June first, next, until further notice. Very Respectfully Yours, William Banning.”
October 13, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “Ninety percent of the property in Avalon is owned by the S.C.I.Co. At a low estimate, seven percent of the other ten, are prepared to sign any agreement which this company may present, and almost everyone wants an early settlement.”
October 13, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “Property values have increased, especially business property… There is not a lot in Avalon which could be bought for less than $1500…”
April 27, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “Avalon lost during the year 1914, $250,000 in business receipts, according to the figures of a Los Angeles banker.”
August 11, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “The following petition, which is self-explanatory, is being circulated this week among the voters of Avalon, by property owners: To the Honorable Board of Trustees of the City of Avalon, Gentlemen, We, the undersigned citizens of Avalon, realizing after a year’s trial of incorporation, that it was a grave mistake; that incorporation has proved a disastrous failure, and done great injury to the business interests of our noted pleasure resort, and greatly lowered its standards of which we were justly proud; and to relieve ourselves of the many forms of grievous taxation and various unnecessary expenses incurred by incorporation, we hereby petition you to call an election at the earliest date possible for the purpose of disincorporating the said city of Avalon, as the first step toward reinstating the happy conditions we so long enjoyed in the village of Avalon. Signed.”
October 12, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “Avalon is not the town it was three years ago, because then Nature and the Bannings had brought it very near to perfection as a pleasure resort.”
November 30, 1915 [LAT]: “Smoldering ruins and ashes where beautiful Avalon stood. Over half of island city is destroyed by flames. Estimated loss of half a million dollars, wrought by possible incendiary blaze. Dramatic scene as victims flee in night. Two hundred persons are homeless as a result of a fire, supposedly of incendiary origin, which reduced more than half of Avalon to ashes early yesterday morning, causing property losses which are estimated by officials of the Santa Catalina Island Company at $500,000. More than half of the property was uninsured. Between the waterfront and the wireless station and Metropole Avenue, the famed Pilgrim’s Club, and the equally famed Tuna Club are all in ashes, while only the chimneys are left of the homes in the exclusive Grand View tract. But in spite of a time of delirium, there were no injuries. Even Thomas Whittley, who jumped from the second floor of the Hotel Rose, escaped with minor bruises. The exact origin of the fire is problematical, though believed to be the work of an incendiary. At 10 o’clock, Sunday night, a blaze was discovered in the unused property of Jacob Willy, No. 200 Eucalyptus Avenue. The volunteer fire department turned out, but found the flames beyond control…”
May 30, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “Each day the steamer Hermosa brings large quantities of furniture and household supplies for those who are opening apartment houses and furnished cottages. It is estimated that there will be 2000 tents and small bungalows opened and ready for business by June 15th.”
May 30, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “…In handing you the accompanying folder for Island Villa and Canvas City for the summer season of 1916, we beg to advise that we find the impression has gone abroad generally that the entire town of Avalon was destroyed by fire on November 29, 1915. While the Hotel Metropole and a number of other buildings were burned at that time, practically all of the town east and south of the freight wharf was uninjured by the fire…”
May 4, 1917: Ordinance No. 71 was adopted amending Ordinance No. 23 whereby the dockage charge was increased to twenty-five cents per passenger landed.
August 1, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “Notice inviting bids for the construction of a two-story city hall and for a jail building for the City of Avalon.”
August 14, 1917 [TI/Avalon]: “The summer of 1917 is proving a splendid one for business. Not in three years has Avalon been called upon to accommodate so great a crowd as visited here last weekend... ‘Three hundred new tents will be erected before Friday,’ was the announcement made Monday by one of the local merchants…”
May 3, 1922: Ordiance No. 130 was adopted ammending Ordinance No. 71 whereby the dockage charge was increased to fifty cents per passenger landed.
January 15, 1942 [TI/Avalon]: “Avalon City Police make 388 arrests during 1941.”
1942: During World War II, Avalon became the west coast training center for the U.S. Maritime Service. Thousands of merchant seamen learned the fundamentals of seamanship and techniques for defending themselves and their cargoes. They then served on the merchant ships that supplied America’s fighting forces around the world.
January 13, 1948 [TI/Avalon]: “Monday morning at Avalon, the streets received a light sprinkling, but the hillsides were blanketed with almost two inches of snow. Again Tuesday morning the hills where white.”
August 5, 1948: Ordiance No. 293 was adopted amending Ordinance No. 130. An expanded description of types of vessels, including airplanes, that might land or disembark passengers at the City Wharf was established. The rate changed back to twenty-five cents per passenger landed.
August 19, 1977 [LAT]: “Avalon. Walking is a way of life in Avalon. The tourists practically wear a groove into the pavement, striding past the waterfront shops on Wrigley Plaza. They march up and down Metropole, Catalina and Sumner streets, and from Wrigley Plaza to the Casino and back on Crescent St. On Catalina Island there are only 800 cars. For the most part, if you don’t have a bike, you walk. Avalon, population 1800, has congested sidewalks. But most Avalon visitors can’t or don’t take the time to see the rest of the island on foot, using the island’s 150-or-so miles of dirt and paved roads…”