Catalina Casino

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Catalina Casino
Catalina 160.jpg
Casino (From Descanso Bay, Outside Avalon Harbor)
General information
Type ballroom and theater
Architectural style Art Deco
Town or city Avalon, California
Country United States
Coordinates 33°20′56″N 118°19′34″W / 33.34887°N 118.32601°W / 33.34887; -118.32601
Construction started February 1928
Opening May 29, 1929
Cost $2 million
Owner Santa Catalina Island Company
Technical details
Structural system round, cantilevered reinforced concrete column
Design and construction
Architect Walter Webber and Sumner A. Spaulding

The Catalina Casino is located in Avalon on Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles. It is the most recognisable landmark in the City of Avalon. It contains a theatre, a ballroom and a museum. The Catalina Casino gets its name from the Italian language, where “casino” means a gathering place. There is no gambling at this facility.[1]


The Catalina Casino was built on the site formerly known as Sugarloaf Point. This site was cleared away to allow for the construction of the Hotel St. Catherine. However, this hotel was eventually built in Descanso Canyon instead. When chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. bought the controlling stake in Catalina Island, he used this cleared spot to build the dance hall which he named Sugarloaf Casino. It served as a ballroom and Avalon's first high school. Its time as a casino was short, however, for it proved too small for Catalina's growing population. In 1928, the Casino was razed to make room for a newer Casino. Sugarloaf Rock was blasted away to enhance the Casino's ocean view.

On May 29, 1929, the newer Casino finished construction under the direction of Wrigley and David M. Renton at a cost of 2 million dollars. Its design, done by Sumner A. Spaulding and Walter Weber, is described as being Art Deco and Mediterranean Revival, and was the first to be designed specifically for films with sound. It was the first completely circular building built in modern times[citation needed] and received the Honor Award from the California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects as "one of the outstanding architectural accomplishments." With a height equal to a 12-story building, it was built to serve as a theatre on the main floor and a ballroom and promenade on the upper level. The 20,000 square foot ballroom can accommodate 3,000 dancers. Film tycoons such as Cecil B. DeMille, Louis B. Mayer and Samuel Goldwin frequently came by yacht to the Casino to preview their newest productions. Today, it also serves as the island's civil defense shelter, large enough to accommodate Catalina's entire year-round population. Within its walls is stored enough food and water for all residents for two weeks.[2]

Steel structure of the old Sugarloaf Casino can still be found in Avalon's abandoned bird park. The bird park was conceived by Mrs. Wrigley, and, at the time, was one of the largest aviaries in the world. The bird park now serves as a daycare for the local residents of Avalon.

In 1993 the theatre was photographed by Hiroshi Sugimoto for his series "Theatres." In September 2008, it played host to the first live full production of a musical on its stage: the Santa Catalina Island Company produced Grease!.


Stage of Avalon Theatre

Surrounded by sea on three sides, the circular structure of the Catalina Casino is the equivalent of 12 stories tall. It has a movie theatre and museum on the first level and a dance hall on the top level. To reach the top level, Wrigley built the Casino with two ramped walkways that extend from the circular core, with two small lobby spaces as well as bathrooms just below the dance floor. Wrigley took the idea to use ramps instead of stairs from his Chicago Cubs stadium. The ramps allowed the large numbers of people using the ballroom to quickly move to and from their destinations. The building was decorated with sterling silver and gold leaf.

The Avalon Theatre, on the first level, shows first-run films nightly. The theatre has one film screen and a seating capacity of 1,154.[3] The theatre is so well insulated that patrons cannot hear the band playing or the 6,000+ dancers on the floor above, yet the acoustics are so good that a speaker on the theatre stage can speak in a normal voice without a microphone and be heard clearly by all in attendance. Additionally, the theatre still has its original 4-manual, 16 rank theatre pipe organ built by the Page Organ Company of Lima, Ohio. It is played every Friday and Saturday evening. The circular domed ceiling has notable acoustics and has been studied by experts due to its repute. The theatre lobby is paneled with walnut wood.

The upper level houses the world's largest circular ballroom with a 180-foot (55 m) diameter dance floor. French doors encircle the room connecting the dance floor with a balcony that runs around the building. The dance floor has a capacity of over 6,000 dancers and was used by the local high school basketball team for a time.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ (on-line)
  2. ^ Baker, Gayle. "Catalina Island", HarborTown Histories, Santa Barbara, CA, 2002, p. 62, ISBN 0-9710984-0-9 (print) 978-0-9879038-0-8 (on-line)
  3. ^ Catalina Island Museum