Great Value for Avalon Landlords
Prior to the modern era, Avalon Bay was inhabited by people of the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe. The island was a major source of soapstone to the Tongva, who used the material to make stone vessels for cooking. The Tongva called the island Pimu or Pimugna and referred to themselves as the Pimugnans. However, by the 1830s, the entire island's native population had either died off, or had been relocated to the mainland to work in the missions or as ranch hands for the many private land owners.
In the 1860s, German immigrant Augustus William Timms ran a sheep herding business on Catalina Island. One of his vessels, the Rosita, would also ferry pleasure seekers across the channel to Avalon Bay for bathing and fishing. The settlement in Avalon was then referred to as Timms's Landing in his honor. By the summer of 1883, there were thirty tents and three wooden buildings at Timms's Landing.
The first owner to try to develop Avalon Bay into a resort destination was George Shatto, a real estate speculator from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Shatto purchased the island for $200,000 from the estate of James Lick at the height of a real estate boom in Southern California in 1887. Shatto created the settlement that would become Avalon, and can be credited with building the town's first hotel, the original Hotel Metropole, and pier. Though early maps labeled the town Shatto, Shatto's sister-in-law Etta Whitney came up with the permanent name of Avalon in reference from a poem by Lord Tennyson called "Idylls of the King" about the legend of King Arthur. Shatto laid out Avalon's streets, and introduced it as a vacation destination to the general public. Despite Shatto's efforts, in a few years he had to default on his loan and the island went back to the Lick estate.
The sons of Phineas Banning bought the island in 1891 from the Lick estate and established the Santa Catalina Island Company to develop it as a resort. The Banning brothers fulfilled Shatto's dream of making Avalon a resort community. They built a dance pavilion in the center of town, made additions to the Hotel Metropole and steamer-wharf, built an aquarium, created the Pilgrim Club (a gambling club for men only). Just as the Bannings were anticipating the construction of a new, Hotel Saint Catherine, their efforts were set back on November 29, 1915, when a fire burned half of Avalon's buildings, including six hotels and several clubs. In 1919, due to debt related to the 1915 fire and a general decline in tourism during World War I, the Bannings were forced to sell the island in shares.
In February 1919, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. bought a controlling interest in Santa Catalina Island and its associated properties from the Banning Brothers. Wrigley devoted himself to preserving and promoting it, investing millions in needed infrastructure and attractions, including the construction of the new Catalina Casino, completed May 29, 1929. In order to encourage growth, Wrigley purchased additional steamships to service Avalon, including the SS Virginia (renamed the SS Avalon) and the SS Catalina which was launched on the morning of May 3, 1924. Wrigley also brought attention to the town of Avalon by having his Chicago Cubs use the island for the team's spring training from 1921 to 1951, absent the war years of 1942–45.