Wilmington Transportation Company

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Wilmington Transportation Company flag, Santa Catalina Island
Wilmington Transportation Company flag logo, Santa Catalina Island

Wilmington Transportation Company (1884-1997) (WTCo) was founded in 1877 by the Bannings, and incorporated by Phineas Banning in 1884. In 1887, Santa Catalina Island owner George Shatto asked Captain William Banning to schedule one of his coastal steamers to make three weekly trips between Avalon and San Pedro to accommodate his vision of turning the island into a tourist destination. Banning’s Wilmington Transportation Company’s earliest vessels, built in the 19th century, included:

Each of these carried passengers between San Pedro and Avalon. In 1892 the Banning brothers, William, Hancock, and Joseph Brent, purchased the island for $128,740. WTC was deeded to the newly incorporated Santa Catalina Island Company, allowing the Bannings to enforce a monopoly of only WTC boats landing tourists on the island. With the success of WTC came the development of outside competitors. Although William Banning ordered the posting of ‘private property’ signs on the shores of Santa Catalina Island, and employed security guards, confrontations became an increasing problem, which in turn generated bad press. Issues of coastal access by the public to private property raised legal questions. As a result of a conflict with the Meteor Boat Company in 1906, in 1907 the courts overruled the Bannings’ monopolistic landing policy in favor of an open port.

In 1910 WTCo letterhead was changed to:

  • William Banning, President
  • J. B. Banning, First Vice-President
  • Hancock Banning. 2nd Vice President,
  • Edward Mahar, General Manager
  • A. M. Jamison, General Passenger Agent

Wrigley’s 1919 purchase of the Santa Catalina Island included both the Wilmington Transportation Company and the Santa Catalina Island Company. In 1920 the Wilmington Transportation Company acquired the Meteor Boat Company. In 1931 Catalina Airlines began amphibian air service to Hamilton Beach, Santa Catalina Island, and in 1950 Inland Motor Tours started. During World War II, from 1942-1945, Santa Catalina Island was converted to a military training base. The vessels S.S. Catalina, S.S. Avalon and Blanche W were used by the government and Santa Catalina Island was closed to visitors.

The Wilmington Transportation Company became Catalina Island Steamship Line in 1948. In 1995 The Wilmington Transportation Company/Catalina Island Steamship Line celebrated its 110th anniversary. Two years later, the company stock was sold to Foss Maritime Company in 1997. Its fleet of island tenders included Ben Weston, Ironbound Bay and Salta Verde. By 1997 when the stock of the Wilmington Transportation Company was sold to a subsidiary of Foss Maritime Company, it was the oldest, continuously run company in the Los Angeles Harbor.

WTCo Presidents:

  • 1884-1885 Phineas Banning
  • 1885-1886 Vacant
  • 1886-1919 William Banning
  • 1919-1920 David Blankenhorn
  • 1920-1934 J. H. Patrick
  • 1934-1948 Philip Knight Wrigley
  • 1948-1951 C. F. Fennema
  • 1951-1955 Woodward M. Taylor
  • 1955-1961 C. M. Boyd
  • 1961-1965 Claude Brooks
  • 1965-1984 Glenwood H. Hines
  • 1984-1986 Chester M. Lewis
  • 1986-1991 S. P. Carney
  • 1991-1994 Doug Larsen
  • 1994-1996 Vacant
  • 1996 Ron C. Doutt

In the News~

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.”

September 30, 1895 [LAH]: “Power yacht La Paloma (22 tons) leaves San Pedro 10:20 A.M. daily except Sunday. Good accommodations on the island. Enquire W.T.Co. [Wilmington Transportation Company], 222 Spring Street.”

July 18, 1896 [LAH]: “Alexander Smith is to go as mate on board the steamer Hermosa, and John Norby as captain on the yacht La Paloma; both vessels belong to the Wilmington Transportation Company.”

February 1, 1903 [SBMP]: “A bill aimed at Catalina Island landing regulations, but bearing on all of the islands of the California coast, has been introduced in the California legislature by Senator Hubbell. Should the bill become a law, any person may visit Santa Catalina Island, regardless of the arbitrary rule of the Wilmington Transportation Company and its kindred corporation, that unless the visitor goes there on the company’s steamers he must pay $2.50 before he will be permitted to land. It will probably have the effect of creating competition in the business of transporting visitors to and from the island, and may cause an increase in the number of such visitors, and thus add to the popularity of the island as a pleasure resort…”

February 4, 1903 [SBI]: “Captain John [Joseph] Banning made the statement in Los Angeles yesterday that if the citizens of Catalina wish the island opened to the general public and all classes of traffic gratis, the Wilmington Transportation Company will not oppose it. Captain Banning stated further that the bill now before the senate making all the islands along the local coast free of entry to the public generally, was prepared at the insistence of the Pacific Coast Yacht Club, whose members are outsiders in every sense of the word. The controversy arose over the action of the company in exacting a landing fee of $2.50 from all whose boats touched at Catalina Island.”

June 3, 1903 [LAT/SCat]: “The Santa Rosa, a new two-masted schooner built by George Mueller at the Banning shipyards at Wilmington, came over today on her trial trip. She is designed to ply between the mainland and Santa Rosa Island for her owners, Messrs. Vail & Gates [Vickers], who also own the island of Santa Rosa.”

April 6, 1912 [SFCall]: “Passengers carried in 1911. The following figures, filed in the office of John K. Bulger, supervising inspector of steam vessels, show the number of passengers carried coastwise by the principal steamship companies during the calendar year of 1911: Pacific Coast Steamship Company 137,626;... Catalina Island service — Wilmington Transportation Company 215,000; Meteor Boat Company 63,733...”

December 30, 1913 [LAT]: “Unless the United States courts shall rule otherwise, coastwise shipping rates between one port of California and another hereafter will be under the jurisdiction of the State Railroad Commission. This was decided today by the State Supreme Court in an opinion affirming the power of the commission to regulate the rates of the Wilmington Transportation Company, plying between Los Angeles harbor and the port of Avalon on Catalina Island, twenty miles out to sea…”

August 4, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “It is reported that the Santa Catalina Company and the Wilmington Transportation Company are now two distinct and separate companies, the latter operating under Federal license. The S.C.I.Co. owns the island, with the exception of the few lots in Avalon, and the entire business must be operated from the profits obtained by the Avalon holdings. Previously and deficiencies were adjusted between the two companies, but now each must be self-supporting.”

August 18, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “It is rumored that the W.T.Co. are building a fast gasoline launch to carry mail to Avalon during the winter months. The new boat will be completely decked over to insure safety and dryness while crossing the channel.”

May 11, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “An approximate estimate relative to the money spent by the Wilmington Transportation Company to settle the deficiencies of the Santa Catalina Island Company in operating Avalon as a pleasure resort for the past five years, was made public last week. For 1910, a transfer of $70,000 was made; 1911, $70,000; 1912, $65,000; 1913, $35,000; 1914, $30,000. Compare the amounts of 1910, 1911 and 1912 with that of 1913 and 1914, with a city administration that collects ‘legal taxes’ for the operation of a pleasure resort as a city of the sixth class. Avalon was incorporated June 26, 1913. Immediately after that the Santa Catalina Island Company’s expenses became less; the attractions and the patronage of visitors also became less. The proportion of the decrease in business and the tax rate for the entertainment of visitors was paid by the property owners of Avalon.”

August 3, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “William Muller, superintendent of the ship building yard for the Wilmington Transportation Company, has laid the keel during the past week for a new gasoline boat to be used in the cross-channel service…”

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.”

February 1, 1922 [TI/Avalon]: “The Wilmington Transportation Company advises that prospects are excellent for a heavy business to Catalina this spring. Already there are eighteen different special parties and conventions in sight for February, March, April, May and June. The island is becoming more an objective for organizations which plan annual outings.”

1928 [MVUS]: “Wilmington Transportation Company:

  • steam screw Avalon
  • steam screw Cabrillo
  • steam screw Catalina
  • gas side-wheel Emperor
  • steam screw Hermosa
  • gas screw John N. Stewart
  • gas screw Milton S. Patrick

September 20, 1932 [LAT]: “Captain Claude Walton, port captain for the Wilmington Transportation Company’s pleasure fleet at Avalon, yesterday brought the glass-bottom boat Empress from Catalina Island to undergo annual overhaul at the yards of the Wilmington Boat Works. The craft will return tomorrow. She will be followed for overhaul by the glass-bottom Princess and Phoenix and by the searchlight boats Betty O and Blanche W'.”