Saint Catherine Hotel, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island
Saint Catherine Hotel, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, (1918-1966) was built on the site of the Banning home in Descanso Canyon in the aftermath of the November 29, 1915 fire, which destroyed a large portion of Avalon, including the Metropole and many other hotels, the Tuna Club, Pilgrim Club, main bathhouse, waterfront shops, and all other city structures within its path. 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 and grand tourist hotel — the Saint Catherine.
The Hotel Saint Catherine construction began in 1917, and opened its doors on June 28, 1918. The hotel was constructed by the Milwaukee Building Company under the supervision of Hancock Banning and Captain William Banning. After William Wrigley, Jr. obtained the island from the Banning brothers in 1919, additional accommodations were erected on the west side of the hotel, the grounds were extended and a swimming pool added. In 1925 a new wing was added to accommodate more diners. The hotel could seat 1200 people for dinner. Tables were set with Catalina Pottery, and fresh fruit and vegetables grown on the island were often served. The hotel's high standard of elegance when it opened made it the island' first choice for accommodations by visiting Hollywood stars. They could come and go more privately in their own yachts to the hotel's pier in Descanso Bay.
For 47 years, the famous hotel served as an elegant vacation spot for visitors to Santa Catalina Island, from the regular tourists to Hollywood stars, many foreign dignitaries, presidents, princes and generals.
Hotel managers included:
- H. W. McAbee (1922) [as early as June 28, 1921]
- Craig D. Pierce (1923-1924) [January 13, 1923; June 1, 1925]
- E. H. Bernegger (1925-1930) [as early as Oct. 24, 1925; as late as November 2, 1930]. He also managed the Atwater and Island Villa and Villa Perk "bungalettes."
- Robert Foehl (1931-1932) [as early as August 20, 1931; October 1, 1932]
- Bobby Faihe (1933)
- Jack Caldwell (1934)
- Ashton Stanley (1935-1937)
- Dick Scollin (1937-1938)
- W. F. Olsen (1939-1941)
- Tomerlin Brothers (1953)
- Joe and Rose Arno (1952-1966)
During World War II (1941-1946) the hotel was used by the Merchant Marines who were in training at the Country Club, the Cubs ballpark and the Casino. All of the furnishings were removed. Of these, only the Saint Catherine was not reopened for the tourist trade after the war. Guest rooms were converted into fifty-three 2 and 3 bedroom apartments for employee housing following the war, and in 1947 the back kitchen was removed.
After the War, the hotel opened again for visitors in 1952. As the need for visitor accommodations grew, in 1953 the Tomerlin brothers of the Wilton Hotel in Long Beach leased the premises, followed by Joe and Rose Arno, Avalon restauranteurs who operated the property as a suite hotel for island visitors until 1963. During its last three years, two separate operators tried to make a success of the operation, but rooms without private baths were not in high demand. Despite some restoration, the decision was made to demolish the hotel after visitation declined and the hotel was operated only at a loss. Demolition began at noon on Saturday, February 12, 1966 when wrecking equipment from Kirtland Truck and Equipment Company of Gardena arrived by barge from the mainland. Demolition was completed within a month.
The St. Catherine originally operated on the American Plan, with meals included. Three times a day menus full-color menus were printed, announcing the fare of the day's three meals. These three-fold menus were printed daily in this attractive format for about 14 years, with the earliest known menu in this format dated July 18, 1921 and the last on August 1, 1934. In October 1934 the hotel changed to the European Plan, with meals costing extra.
- Click here to see St. Catherine Hotel Menus
- Austin, Dan and Jane. What's On the Menu? The Hotel St. Catherine Catalina Island 1920 through World War II Privately printed, (2013). Wraps.
- [original in SCIF archives; first edition, perfect bound wraps. Signed by the authors.]
In the News~
December 18, 1917 [TI/Avalon]: “Not exactly from the ashes on the former site of the Hotel Metropole, on Crescent Avenue, will the two magnificent hostelries, which have been announced by the Santa Catalina Island Company, spring into existence. One stately edifice is to be erected on the excavation just completed at a cost of $30,000 on Sugar Loaf Point, to be known as the St. Catherine, and the second — the Annex, will be located in beautiful Descanso Canyon… The St. Catherine will contain 160 guest rooms; but owing to the unusual size of these and to the numerous rooms planned for general use by the guests, the number of guest rooms does not suggest the real magnitude of the building. An attractive feature will be a series of verandas, at different floor levels, one of these, that will overlook Avalon, having some ten thousand square feet of floor space. The great main dining room, commanding a view of the beautiful bay of Avalon and the great ocean from three sides, will have a seating perfectly equipped to care for this large number of guests. On the side of the building facing the mountains there will arise a tile-capped tower, the upper part of which will contain a splendid conservatory. From the upper portion of the main building, and from under this tower, there will be a great arch bridging the driveway that now winds around the shoreline from Avalon to Descanso Canyon, and ending against the side of the mountain. The top of this arch will afford a passageway to the road seventy-five feet above the beach road, now completed from Sugar Loaf Point to Descanso Canyon, and which will soon be extended to connect with the northerly end of Crescent Avenue…”
February 10, 1918 [LAT]: “Work is progressing on the first of two hostelries projected by the Santa Catalina Island Company on Catalina Island… The new island caravansary will be known as the ‘Annex’ and will be somewhat smaller than the other hotel, which is to be known as the ‘Saint Catherine’… The St. Catherine will stand on the Sugar Loaf peninsula… Both hotels will suggest in their lines the architecture of Northern Italy…”
March 19, 1918 [TI/Avalon]: “Another large lighter load of material for the St. Catherine Hotel was unloaded at the Sugar Loaf Point wharf last week, besides which there are daily arrivals of other material on the steamship Cabrillo.”
April 30, 1918 [TI/Avalon]: “The Wilmington Transportation Company has this season issued a handsome new folder setting forth the attractions of the Island Villa and Canvas City. Among the illustrations is one of the new Hotel St. Catherine.”
May 7, 1918 [TI/Avalon]: “Announcement was made Saturday by a representative of the Santa Catalina Island Company that Mr. N. S. Mullen, formerly manager of the Canyon Hotel, Yellowstone Park, has been appointed manager of the new St. Catherine Hotel, Descanso Canyon, Avalon…”
May 14, 1918 [TI/Avalon]: “It is expected that one wing of the Hotel St. Catherine will be ready to receive furniture this week. The wash bowls, toilets, bathtubs, etc. are now being installed therein…”
June 8, 1924 [LAT]: “A new wing on the Saint Catherine Hotel with an enlarged diningroom
March 1944 [USNIP]: “In war time the island provides the location for a U.S. Maritime Commission training school for merchant seamen. Those trainees have the famed St. Catherine Hotel for their living quarters and they use the million-dollar Avalon Casino for their classroom work. Coast Guardsmen have a school among the palms on Isthmus Cove,” notes Lieutenant Commander Stanley A. Wheeler.
January 14, 1966 [LAT]: “Avalon. Catalina begins vast face-lifting. The biggest face-lifting project in 40 years us under way on Santa Catalina, one of the nation’s best-known island resorts. The St. Catherine Hotel has been closed. The famed landmark will be torn down soon… We have spent $334,000 since the end of World War II trying to keep the Saint Catherine going. It’s been a loosing battle… [Malcolm] Renton said a cabana beach club or new major hotel is expected to replace the St. Catherine in secluded Descanso Bay, around the corner from the Casino…”
St. Catherine Hotel Menus
Menu cards (with a post card view) were printed three times daily for over 13 years.
:: The earliest known in the post card format: July 18, 1921.
:: The last known: August 1, 1934. At three menus a day totals over 14,277 possible menu cards!