The Casino, is without a doubt, the signature landmark for Catalina Island and the town of Avalon. Casino doesn't mean gambling, it refers to a gathering place, and later became associated with the gambling enterprise. This building replaced the smaller Sugarloaf Casino which had been erected earlier on the same spot overlooking Avalon Bay on Catalina Island.
The Moorish Alhambric style building, rising above Sugarloaf point on the north side of Avalon Harbor, creates a striking panorama, especially as one approaches the island from the mainland.
William Wrigley, Jr., who owned the island of Catalina, spent two millions dollars to erect this building that has become an enduring landmark and a cherished icon rich in history of big names in entertainment, but accessible to all, thus fulfilling Wrigley's vision.
Construction was begun in 1928 with five-hundred builders working around the clock, allowing a grand opening fourteen months later on May 29, 1929. There are 28,222 separate pieces of steel in this structure, weighing 2,500 tons, and 25,000 yards each of concrete and plaster, and a millions board feet of lumber. The roof is covered with 105,000 curved red mission tiles.
Wrigley engaged architects Sumner A. Spaulding and William Webber to design his new casino to house a theater and a ballroom. What resulted was an engineering marvel that won major awards, employing features that were cutting edge technology, and that can seldom be equaled today. The Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects bestowed upon it the Honor Award in 1930 for outstanding design.
The ballroom is so well designed that a full band with 2,000 dancers can be enjoying themselves without being heard in the theater. This was achieved by using a layer of cork overlayed by a floating sub-floor of pine and acoustical felt paper, which also gives the floor a soft, comfortable feel for hours of effortless dancing. It is all finished with patterns of white oak, rosewood, and maple.
The honor of the premier performance went to Maurice Menge and his El Patio Orchestra on May 29, 1929. An impressive array of big bands and guest musician have performed in the ballroom over the years. Greats like Jan Garber, Kay Kyser, Bob Crosby, Dick Jurgens, and Jimmy Grier, among many others, would pack out the ballroom night after night, often staying for engagements up to six weeks.
One of the most unique features of engineering design is a large wooden fan artfully hidden above the central lighting fixture, helping to maintain a comfortable temperature for the audience, performers and dancers.
The ballroom is embellished with art deco sconces, murals, and a dozen reliefs of Greek gods done in silver leaf. Around the sides of the ballroom is an open air balcony with a commanding view over Avalon Bay and the waterfront of the town of Avalon with the hills forming a picturesque backdrop.
The entire building is a showcase of art deco features, from the fabulous murals at the entrance and in the theater by John Gabriel Beckman, to the hat room. For more information on these murals see the following waymark
Avalon Casino Murals
The Casino underwent a major renovation in 1994, with the carpet being replaced, but most of the original fixtures and art work was retained, including 4,500 feet of rare black walnut wood work in the lobby, currently valued in excess of 4 million dollars - twice the originally construction price for the entire building.
The ceiling of the lobby is is a fresco, still retaining the bright colors of the original paint. There are 88 gold leaf stars studding the ceiling, giving the impression of the night sky.
The theater, with its curved dome is nearly acoustically perfect. A person standing in the front, speaking in a normal conversational voice, can be heard clearly in the back of the theater. The theater seats 1,184 people and is 138 feet wide and 43 feet high. The premier showing on May 29, 1929, was Man with an Iron Mask
with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Following the trend of the 1920's, a pipe organ from the Page Organ Company, in Lima, Ohio, was was installed with 16 ranks of pipes (73-85 pipes per rank totaling 1,500 pipes) in the ceiling lofts of the theater. It provided the musical effects for the movies and is still played weekly for viewers on weekends. It is one of the few surviving Page Organs, and the largest one they ever produced.
This theater is listed in the
First run movies are shown daily (no matinees), one feature at a time. Informative tours are available during the day, with tickets available at most tour outlets.