LOS ANGELES — Catalina Express, Catalina Flyer and personal boat might be the best and most common ways to cross the channel from Los Angeles to Avalon or Two Harbors, but there was a time when steamboats paraded people to and from Catalina Island.
Wilmington Transportation Co. operated steamboats across the Catalina Channel in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Its steamboats also served as the predecessor to Avalon Freight Services, which delivers goods and services to Catalina Island.
“The S.S. Falcon along with the S.S. Warrior played a significant role in Catalina Island’s early transportation history,” a narrative of maritime history published online by L.A. Water and Power Associates explained. “They were an important part of the Wilmington Transportation Company fleet for many years. They carried hundreds of passengers across the channel to Catalina Island as well as freight and fresh water for the Island residents.”
Another passenger steamer was the S.S. Cabrillo, which gathered channel-crossers at San Pedro’s Wilmington Wharf and navigated them to Catalina Island. Cabrillo was built at the shipyards of Banning Co, which was located in the Port of Los Angeles; she was launched in 1904 and was considered the most luxurious ship of her time.
An online entry about Catalina’s steamers on the Steamship Historical Society of America – SoCal website described Cabrillo as being equipped with a rosewood staircase and mahogany paneling.
Also owned by Wilmington Island Co. was S.S. Catalina – nicknamed “The Great White Steamer.” She launched in 1924 and remained in service until 1975; Catalina was scrapped in 2009. At the time it took Catalina two hours to trek across the channel. She was the last steamboat to service Avalon.