BANNING, Phineas (1830-1885), was born on a farm near Wilmington, Delaware. He arrived in California in late 1851 at the age of age 21, after securing passage as a clerk aboard a cargo ship bound for San Pedro. He was quick to observe that coastal trade vessels had to anchor offshore quite a distance out, so he established a ship-to shore transportation business, followed soon thereafter by a shipyard and his namesake wharf at the end of Canal Street. He named the area for his hometown, and established the Wilmington Transportation Company [WTC].
In 1854 Banning married Rebecca Sanford (1834-1868), and they had eight children, three of whom survived to adulthood:
Rebecca died in childbirth in 1868 giving birth to a fourth son, Vincent, who died with her. In 1870, Banning married heiress Mary E. Hollister (1846-1919), and they had two surviving daughters:
- Mary Hollister (1871-1955)
- Lucy Tichenor (1876-1927)
A third child died in infancy, and although both daughters Mary and Lucy married, neither had children. General Phineas Banning, Civil War veteran and state senator, is considered the Father of the Port of Los Angeles.
He paid his first visit to Santa Catalina Island in 1859, and soon was organizing island excursions for family and friends. He was employed to construct barracks at the Isthmus to house Civil War soldiers. In 1865 Banning was elected to the state senate. In 1866 he introduced a bill for construction of a Los Angeles to San Pedro railroad, but it was defeated. In 1868 the railroad bill passed, and in 1869 southern California’s first railroad, from Wilmington to Los Angeles, opened on October 20.
The history of the Banning family is preserved in the Banning Residence Museum located at 401 East M Street, Wilmington, California.
In 1880 Banning purchased the paddle box side-wheel steamer Amelia; in 1883 he built the S.S. Linda. Phineas Banning died March 8, 1885 at age 54 at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco. He is interred in the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery.
After Banning’s death, his sons continued his business interests. In 1892, Banning’s sons, William, Joseph and Hancock, purchased Santa Catalina Island for $128,740 from George Shatto, except for Avalon lots already sold to individuals by Shatto, and one previous mining claim. In 1896 the Banning brothers formed the Santa Catalina Island Company with each brother owning one-third of the island property.
In the News~
January 12, 1882 [LAT/SP]: “…I learn that General Banning has bought the wreck of the bark Amie, that was driven up on the rocks during the recent storm…”
May 15, 1883 [LAT]: “Catalina Island, with its beautiful stretches of beach, quiet bays and fine fishing, lying so near the harbor of Wilmington, remains terra incognita to many of our citizens on account of the serious inconvenience heretofore experienced in getting across the intervening sea. The difficulty is happily about to be removed by Admiral Banning, who is now busily engaged in putting into holiday attire the steamship Amelia, purchased by him last fall for an excursion boat. She has recently been fitted with new machinery of grand proportions, that will supply sufficient power to propel her at the rate of fifteen miles an hour, thereby reducing the time of the trip to the island to less than two hours. Her spacious cabins, staterooms and dining-salon have been newly carpeted and upholstered, inviting to repose and charming the eye. Her outer works are being repainted, and everything conducive to safety and comfort is being done thoroughly and well; in fact, the whole vessel is sound and staunch and has accommodations for between four and five hundred passengers. A fine restaurant under the management of a first class caterer will be kept in operation during her trips, and excursionists can rely upon a most enjoyable and exhilarating voyage to the famed island, heretofore ‘so near and yet so far,’ It is expected that the first of a series of summer excursions will be made early in the month of June.”
March 10, 1885 [LAT]: “News of the death at the Occidental Hotel, San Francisco, of General Phineas Banning, a well-known citizen and pioneer of this century, was received here last Sunday. The General had been in poor health for about two years, suffering from a combination of liver and kidney complaints, and his disease was aggravated by an accident which he met with some time ago in San Francisco, where he was knocked down and run over by a passing wagon…General Banning derived his title by having been commissioned Brigadier General of the National Guard of California, and he was also state senator from this senatorial district for one term…The remains will arrive by today’s south-bound train, and it is understood that they will be interred at Wilmington…”
July 3, 1904 [LAT/SP]: “With many pennants floating in the breeze, the flag of General Phineas Banning at her masthead, the Cabrillo, the finest and fastest steamer of the Banning Fleet, steamed proudly up the inner harbor at 10 o’clock this morning, while half the town cheered her arrival and all the other craft in the harbor gave her noisy welcome…”