WHEELER, Alonzo & Sophie

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Alonzo Wheeler's Avalon Home, far right, 1889
The lodging house of Alonzo & Sophie Wheeler
Los Angeles Herald, July 6, 1891
advertising Santa Catalina Island hotels:
Avalon House, Catalina House and Spence's Villa
Wheelers' Avalon Bakery c. 1892
Santa Catalina Island hotel boom
photo by P. V. Reyes, 1892.
Note Wheeler's Avalon Home to the left of the pier.
An Hour's Catch c. 1896.
Wheelers' Avalon Home in background.
Alonzo Wheeler's Avalon Home, 1890

WHEELER, Alonzo (1835-c. 1900) was born October 31, 1835, in Pigeon Cove, Gloucester, Essex, Massachussetts. On March 26, 1873, he married Sophia Atwood Pool (1838-1925). In December 1888, Massachussetts-born Alonzo Wheeler and his wife, paid Santa Catalina Island developer, George Shatto, $2660 for five lots of Block 4 in Avalon. They were the first to buy property for engaging in business. Here they built their grocery store and bakery, which they replaced with their lodging house, Avalon Home, on the west corner of Crescent and Sumner avenues.

Advertisements published in the Los Angeles Herald announced:

“First-class hotel. Pleasant dining room. Efficient service. Table supplied with the best the market affords.”

In the summer of 1890, the Wheelers enlarged and improved their hotel. Avalon Home was open year around, with “fish right out of the water a specialty.” Wheeler was a baker by trade. He also operated the grocery store and coffeehouse next to his Avalon Hotel [Avalon Home]. He advertised:

“First-class home-made bread, pies and cakes. Only the best material used.”

Later the Banning Company changed the name of the Avalon Home to to the Island Villa Hotel.

The hardworking Wheeler also owned and operated the schooner Ruby. Millspaugh and Nuttall (Flora of Santa Catalina Island) report that “Mrs. S. A. P. Wheeler was particularly interested in botany and acted as a guide or advisor to most of the visiting collectors of that period.” They were not able to “secure data concerning her collections.” Sophie Wheeler was the first to report many new plants.

Wheelers had two daughters:

  • Geneva Russell Wheeler (1874-1963)
  • Annie Lawrence Wheeler (1875-1955)

In June 1900, Alonzo Wheeler was a patient in Southern California State Hospital where he most likely died.

In 1903-07, Sophia Atwood Pool Wheeler was an active member of the National Education Association and curator of the Antonio F. Coronel Collection, Chamber of Commerce. The Coronel collection became the basis for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Sophia lived on: Brookyn Ave., Los Angeles; 2103 E. lst St., Los Angeles; later she lived in Baldwin Park with her daughters. March 11, 1937 [TI/Avalon].

In the News~

[1888] July 1, 1937 [TI/Avalon]: From a letter written by the Misses Geneva R. and Annie L. Wheeler at the time of Sophie Wheeler’s death, November 29, 1925: “… In 1888, somewhat worn by hard work, [Mr. Wheeler] bought the schooner Ruby, in which they sailed down the coast, encountering a fearful gale at Point Conception, but coming into quieter waters among the Islands. Rounding the east end of Avalon Bay, Mrs. Wheeler’s attention was arrested by the septosyne, with its striking yellow flowers against the cliffs, and seeing the charming little bay said, ‘Let us come here.’ Mr. Wheeler bought the first lot to be used for business purposes. The brick oven he built there has been only recently demolished. It long remained in the store on Crescent Avenue… Mrs. Wheeler taught the very first private school in her home, with two pupils, thirteen weeks, from some time in October 1888. She had reported some plants to the California Academy of Science in San Francisco. To her were directed the botanists and scientists coming to the island. Among them were Prof. Sargent of Harvard and the Arnold Arboretum; Dr. Dill of the Smithsonian, who took a cross section of the famous Lyonothamnus back with him. Among those to whom she was an inspiration in this study was Mrs. Blanche Trask, internationally known for her work on the flora of the islands, and for her shell and other collections. The “Sweet Sophia,” a Crossosoma, a rare shrub, related to the buttercups, was named in honor of Mrs. Wheeler, whose favorite bloom it was. 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. When they were ready to set sail they tried to hoist the anchor, but it would not come up. Three hours of hard work, and the combined efforts of all the men on shore were required before it came in sight, and then, to their amazement, it had hold of another anchor weighing 800 pounds, which it had picked up on the bottom. Much surmise has resulted as to what ship it belonged. Many think it was lost from the steamer U.S.S. Hassler; but by others it is questioned as to whether that vessel ever was in the harbor. When later on the Ruby was sold, the anchor of mystery went with it, and when the vessel went on the rocks at San Clemente some time later in a fog, all was lost.”

[1889] August 31, 2012 [TI/Avalon]: “… On this maiden voyage, [Ruby, March 16, 1889] brought over Captain Alonzo Wheeler, his wife, Sophia A. Pool Wheeler, his mother, Mrs. Esther Parsons Wheeler, and his maternal twin uncles, Captain Nathaniel and Captain Theophilus Parsons… Captain Wheeler lost no time in purchasing two front lots on the west corner of Crescent and Sumner avenues and pitched his tent as home. Behind his home, in a large tent, [Wheeler] constructed a brick oven and began Avalon’s first bakery. On the second lot, he erected the rooming house hostel, which became known as Avalon Home. There he kept 15 head of cattle and one bull named Major. They produced two kinds of milk: steamer and children’s…”

June 22, 1890 [LAH]: “A. Wheeler, proprietor of the Avalon House at Catalina Island, has greatly enlarged and improved his hotel. The new rooms have been finely furnished, and those facing the beach afford a fine harbor view. The guests of Mr. Wheeler express the greatest satisfaction with the appointments of his hotel and the excellence of his table.”

September 21, 1890 [LAH]: “Mr. Alonzo Wheeler, of Avalon on the island of Catalina, has adopted a novel way to secure money on debts. He went on Friday afternoon to the district attorney’s office and there told Mr. McComas that W. B. Atwood had obtained $42 from him by means of a check for a like amount, on the Southern Califronia bank, and which Atwood alleged to be good. Wheeler, however, could not get it cashed on presentation. He therefore wanted a complaint drawn up. As he spoke so much about bringing criminals to justice, Mr. McComas unhesitatingly gave him a complaint and told him to take it to Justice Savage, where the warrant would be issued. When Wheeler reached the township justice’s court he intimated plainly that he only wanted the warrant for the purpose of terrifying Atwood into repaying the money. Justice Savage declined to make a collection official himself, and refused to issue the warrant. Yesterday morning, Wheeler went to Mr. McComas and wanted the complaint dismissed—presumably he had scared the money out of Atwood, for the latter’s father-in-law was also around Justice Savage’s court, and he too, wanted the case dismissed, and the matter hushed up.”

June 29, 1891 [LAH]: “Mr. Wheeler has opened the Avalon House at Catalina for the season.”

July 13, 1891 [LAH]: “The Avalon House is a better hotel than the Metropole ever was.”

October 24, 1891 [SPT]: “Avalon. Our people have been for a considerable time annoyed by the cattle, horses and pigs breaking through or getting around the fence, which is supposed to cut off the town site from the pasturage. Some time ago a calf got its head into an oil can that was used as a receptacle for garbage and with that adornment rushed into the sea, and had got a considerable distance from the land before it was noticed, and with some difficulty rescued. During Saturday night some cattle visited the house of Mr. Hutchkiss and got away with about two hundred pounds of potatoes, beets, etc. left outside. The night following they made another raid on the place, and one of the company, a young bull belonging to Captain Wheeler, and progenitor of the calf whose foraging propensities got him a sea bath, got himself into a like difficulty, but with more disastrous results, for in exploring a barrel with a few potatoes at the bottom left from the previous raid, his horns fastened his head in the barrel, and he was found in the morning drowned on the beach and not far from the scene of his exploit.”

November 7, 1892 [LAH]: “Catalina Township. Catalina Election Precinct — At Pavilion. Inspectors — William Condit, Alonzo Wheeler.”

November 21, 1892 [LAH]: “Notice. School Bond Election. FINISH

July 30, 1894 [LAH]: “Alonzo Wheeler, proprietor of the bakery at 331 North Main Street, showed signs of mental derangement yesterday, and he had to be locked up in the county jail. Wheeler has been acting queerly for some time. Yesterday he went to an adjoining saloon, kicked the door, and said he wanted to go in to see what was going on. He had an idea that the saloons of the city are not being conducted correctly, and he undertook to regulate matters. He reported the case to the police, going to the station with a Bible under his arm. He went from the station to the First Presbyterian church and asked someone to go with him to the saloons; that he was going to see if they are run rightly. Some friends of the wandering man took him in charge, but it became necessary to lock him up pending an examination before the lunacy commissioners. Mrs. Wheeler, his wife, conducts the Avalon Home, on Catalina Island.”

August 12, 1894 [LAH]: “Avalon, Catalina Island, Aug. 11 - Avalon House has become the headquarters for the musicians. Among those who may be seen at this place who are prominent in the art are Miss Katherine Kimball, Miss Edith B. Johnson, Professor Chambers, Miss Maggie O. Donohue and Mrs. Nellie Marfoot.”

April 18, 1895 [LAH]: “The Avalon House property has been acquired by the Banning Company and the hotel is closed until further notice.”

[1923]: “WHEELER, (Mrs.) S. A. P. Resided continuously at Avalon for a number of years previous to 1897, during which time she was particularly interested in botany and acted as guide or advisor to most of the visiting collectors of that period. We have not been able to secure data concerning her collections. [Millspaugh & Nuttall Flora of Santa Catalina Island].

August 19, 1931 [TI/Avalon]: “Nathaniel Parsons, after whom Parsons Beach was named, was the uncle of Mrs. Wheeler who owned the Island Home, an apartment house located where is now the Dr. Mary Dennis block, at the corner of Sumner and Crescent avenues. Parsons was popularly known as “Uncle.” He built himself a small stone house on Parsons Beach. When about 80 years of age, he left the island and went to the mainland to reside with his sister near Los Angeles, first disposing of his cattle.”

March 11, 1937 [TI/Avalon]: “Less than a year after the laying out of the town, in 1887, there came to the island, with her husband, Mrs. S. A. Wheeler. She, for several months gathered around her each Sunday afternoon, the children in Avalon teaching them the lessons of the Bible. One bright Sunday morning in June 1888, there passed from tent to tent, cottage to cottage, one who was known to nearly every Congregational Sunday School in Southern California, Rev. H. P. Chase, for it was he who had come to the island for the purpose of organizing a Sunday School. In response to this personal invitation, a goodly number of residents and summer visitors met in the canvas pavilion on Crescent Avenue and accomplished that for which they had come together, electing Mrs Wheeler superintendent, and Mrs. Whitney secretary-treasurer. Thus was started our Sunday School…”

April 7, 1938 [TI/Avalon]: “Avalon’s school system was commenced in the year 1896, when Mrs. S. A. Wheeler and Mrs. K. F. M. Cleaves operated a private school on Metropole Avenue.”

June 9, 1938 [TI/Avalon]: “Mr. Wheeler built the Island Home — or, rather, I built it for him. It was where the Pitman-Dennis block is now, and it is now a part of the Carpenter home on Metropole Avenue. J. D. MacLean.”