The newspapers of Catalina Island

CATALINA ISLAND—People who know their Catalina Island history are aware of William Wrigley and his Chicago Cubs using Avalon as a base for spring training.  Those same people might also know about the Banning brothers, who owned Catalina Island prior to Wrigley. But did you know the Bannings faced a steady dose of criticism from a local newspaper? That newspaper was the Wireless. Local businessman Willis LeFavor, published the newspaper from 1912-1916; the paper, in addition to being critical of the Bannings, pushed for Avalon to be incorporated as a city. (Incorporation came along in 1913, not too long after Wireless launched.)

Wireless, to be sure, was not the first – nor the last – publication covering Catalina Island. The first-ever newspaper on the island was Jewfish, which was introduced to the island public in 1892. Avalon Avalanche would arrive on the scene in 1893.  The year 1903 saw the publication of Avalon Crusoe.

But Wireless’s criticism of the Bannings lead to the creation of another publication: Catalina Islander. The Islander debuted in 1914 “as a counterforce against criticisms of the banning operations,” according to the book, “Catalina A to Z: Glossary Guide to California’s Island Jewel.”

“Issues of the day pitted the townsfolk, who wanted a ‘wet’ city (with alcohol consumption) and no harbor commerce control versus the Bannings, who maintained a ‘dry’ town and trade control over boat traffic,” an entry of the book continued. “The Islander endured even as the Bannings lost on both counts when Avalon was incorporated as a city.”

Wireless holds yet another unique place in Catalina’s media history: it was effectively an extension of the Los Angeles Times and a part of Otto and Oswald Zahn’s Catalina Pigeon Messenger Service.

“For four years, from 1894 through 1898, Otto and Oswald Zahn operated the Catalina Pigeon Messenger Service, a mail service by pigeons flying between Avalon and Downtown Los Angeles,” according to the L.A. Almanac. “The pigeon service allowed what was, perhaps, the world’s first suburban newspaper edition as the Los Angeles Times provided daily news copy to an island newspaper called Wireless.”

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