Catalina, also known as Santa Catalina Island, is an island that is situated about twenty-two miles southwest of Los Angeles, California. The island covers an area of seventy-five square miles and is twenty-two miles long and eight miles across at its widest point. It belongs to the Channel Islands of California archipelago and as such is in the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County. There are over thirty-six hundred residents on Catalina, and eighty-five percent of them live in Avalon City. The next major center of population is Two Harbors and it contains around three hundred residents. The rest of the population of the island is scattered between these two urban centers and Catalina has a population density of about forty-nine people per square mile.
The original residents of the island were the Gabrielino tribe, who occupied the area around seven thousand B.C. European settlement wouldn’t occur until the mid-sixteenth century, when Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo claimed the island for the Spanish Crown and named it San Salvador. Fifty years later, Sebastian Vizcaino would rediscover the island and named it Santa Catalina to honor the feast day of St. Catherine. Over the course of the next three centuries, Catalina was the home base for many smugglers, pirates, fishermen and otter hunters. By 1830, there were no residents left on the island, however. They were either dead or had moved on to greener pastures on the mainland. Mexican Governor of Alta California, Pío de Jesus Pico, gave a land grant of the Island of Catalina to Thomas Robbins in the mid-nineteenth century.
Mr. Robbins was a captain who came to California around 1823 and married the daughter of Carlos Antonio Carrillo. He founded a small ranch on Catalina Island, but would eventually sell it to Jose Maria Covarrubias in 1850. Senor Covarrubias would then turn around and sell the island to Santa Barbara resident, Albert Packard, three years later. Over the course of the next nine years it exchanged hands several times until it was eventually owned by James Lick in 1864. During the decade, Catalina experienced a minor gold rush, but little gold was actually recovered in the area. Eventually, the Federal government removed all the residents off of the island and put a small Union garrison on it. Their barracks can still be seen to this day and is one of the oldest structures on the island.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Catalina was once again almost completely uninhabited. Twenty-two miles away, Los Angeles was experience a growth spurt and its population was close approaching the fifty thousand person mark. This unprecedented growth would lead to the transformation of Catalina from a uninhabited wilderness to a popular tourist destination. In 1891, the Banning brothers bought the island and began to transform it as a resort. They built a dance pavilion, made improvements to Hotel Metropole, erected an aquarium, founded the Pilgrim Gambling Club and improved the beach areas. They also built dirt roads into the interior of the island and added bath houses.
In 1915, half of the development burned in a fire and the Banning brothers fell into debt. By 1919, they were forced to sell off the island a piece at a time. One of these pieces were sold to chewing gum entrepreneur William Wrigley. Mr. Wrigley and his wife then visited the island and immediately fell in love with it. Eventually, he would end up buying out all the owners until he owned the entire island. He immediately began to invest millions of dollars into the island and built up its infrastructure. Today, over eighty-eight percent of the island is managed by the Catalina Island Conservancy.
Catalina is an island that has a very diverse ecosystem with a lot of unique animal, flora and fauna species. Catalina Island boasts more than four hundred native plant species. Six of these species can only be found on the island and nowhere else in the world. These six plants are Santa Catalina Island Ironwood, Catalina manzanita, Catalina dudleya, Catalina mahogany, St. Catherine’s lace and Santa Catalina bedstraw. Catalina also has five distinct land animals that are native to the island. These include California Ground Squirrel, Island Fox, Santa Catalina Island Deer Mouse, Santa Catalina Island Harvest Mouse and the Ornate Shrew. The island also contains gold eagles, bald eagles and a variety of different fish can be found in the waters around the island. These fish include sheepheads, herring, opaleyes, anchovies, sardines, garibaldi, bat rays, Yellowtail, Leopard sharks, barracuda, Kelp Bass, Giant sea bass, lingcods, bonito, White seabass, blacksmiths, mackerel and horn sharks.
The island has a thriving tourists trade and over one million visitors come here each and every year. These tourist are brought to the island by its scenic beauty and by a large number of attractions. A popular attraction on the island is Catalina Casino. Catalina Casino was built on what used to be Sugarloaf Point. It was built by Mr. Wrigley in 1929 at a cost of two million dollars. The casino is surrounded by the ocean on three of its sides and it stands approximately twelve stories high. On its top level is a dance hall and on its bottom level is a museum and movie theater. The dance hall is capable of accomodating over six thousand dancers.