Our main reason for visiting Catalina was to attend Catalinaland, a presentation by Ambassador of Americana, and personal idol, Charles Phoenix. Phoenix was presenting his slideshow celebrating the island in the iconic Avalon Theatre, which is located within the Catalina Casino.
When chewing gum king, William Wrigley Jr. opened his “Casino” on May 29, 1929, he did so with the Italian meaning in mind, which means “gathering place” or “place of entertainment” or “a building built for pleasure and entertainment.” So, in other words you won’t find any slot machines or roulette wheels here! But what you will find is an absolutely breathtaking theatre and ballroom.
The Casino was designed by Sumner A. Spaulding and Walter Webber, and it is an art deco masterpiece, but with Spanish Revival nuances, because, hey, this is California.
And, yes, that is a charm of the Casino! My dad found it awhile back. I immediately added it to my California themed charm bracelet and have been just waiting to do a shot like this!
The building serves two purposes, the first floor is a movie theatre, the second is a grand ballroom. Outside the theatre are massive murals featuring fanciful sea life, the centerpiece of which is a mermaid executed in the elegant tile of the famed Catalina Pottery.
The lobby just inside features rich dark wood, which ushers visitors into a large domed theatre, also outfitted with spectacular murals of a mythical tale of California.
The murals, both inside, and out, were done by John Gabriel Beckman, who was also responsible for the murals of Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and earned the reputation for being the “foremost muralist living on the west coast.” Beckman met with Wrigley over dinner to discuss the murals, and just two days later presented Wrigley with sketches, which were quickly approved. Shockingly the murals were completed in three months, and still enchant and amaze visitors to this day.
The theatre also maintains and uses its original pipe organ, which can be heard before weekend movie screenings. Also, in case you’re wondering, this place is still just a movie theatre*, running current movies, in addition to hosting special events.
As mentioned, the building is also home to a ballroom, but sadly, we could not access it, perhaps on another visit!
The Avalon Theatre is located at 1 Casino Way in Avalon on Catalina Island. You can visit it just to see a movie, or take one of the tours offered!
*January 2020 Update: The Avalon Theatre is no longer a daily operating cinema. However, the venue is still part of tours of the Casino, and available for special events.