Since the original vision of the Banning Brothers, the Catalina Island Company has been beautifying Catalina Island and spoiling visitors for 129 years with conservation, preservation, and tourism.
CATALINA ISLAND— Three brothers, Willian, Hancock, and Joseph Banning, whose father, Phineas, was one of Southern California’s pioneering legends, had purchased Catalina in 1892 and placed the island and other assets into their new corporation to make Avalon an exciting and sustainable resort destination. It was in 1894 that the brothers incorporated the Catalina Island Company (then Santa Catalina Island Company).
Like previous owners of Catalina Island, including the founder of Avalon, George Shatto, the Banning’s were rather successful in their endeavors. Over the next two decades, they built roads, hotels, and several tourist attractions. However, a 1915 fire consumed half of Avalon’s structures, including six hotels, bringing their company to the brink of bankruptcy. The brothers attempted to rebuild, opening Hotel St. Catherine in 1918 in Descanso Canyon. Still, mounting debt forced them to sell a large number of shares of their company a year later to a real estate development firm.
In 1921, one of those share owners, William Wrigley Jr, the chewing gum magnate who purchased his interest in the Island sight unseen, acquired most of the Banning’s share in the Catalina Island Company and began changing Island routines to move in a direction that would permanently preserve all of Santa Catalina Island’s natural state. The island’s beauty enchanted Wrigley and his family, who became determined to make the island an enduring part of their family’s legacy. Over the next 56 years, various conservation projects were ignited by the Wrigley-run Catalina Island Company, including animal controls, watershed protection, and overgrazed landscape reseeding.
In 1921, he brought his beloved Chicago Cubs to Avalon, where they would hold spring training for the next 30 years. Wrigley also welcomed Hollywood to Catalina, which was often altered into a backdrop for many movies of the 1920s and 30s, including “Mutiny on the Bounty,” which won the Oscar for best picture in 1932. Eventually, more than 500 movies, TV shows, documentaries, and commercials were filmed on and around the island throughout those years.
When William Wrigley Jr. died in 1932, ownership of the company transferred over to his son Philip Knight Wrigley and daughter Dorothy Wrigley Offield. In 1972, the Wrigleys and Offields created the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy, then a private charitable foundation, and three years later, deeded 88 percent of Catalina’s interior and coastline to the foundation. The Catalina Island Conservancy thrives to this day as a non-profit organization. Its mission is ‘to be a responsible steward of its lands through a balance of conservation, recreation, and education.’ Under the stewardship and guidance of third and fourth-generation descendants of William’s wife Ada and himself, the Catalina Island Company continues to offer a complete resort destination experience, including hotels, restaurants, a spa, water sports, camping, and a host of land and sea tours, activities and adventures that showcase Catalina’s culture, history, rugged wilderness, and unique marine ecosystem.
As the ICO continued to grow and develop from the goals of the two families who molded it, today that company invites tourists and residents to visit all nine properties throughout Avalon, including the Pavilion Hotel, Hotel Atwater, Catalina Expeditions, Catalina Visitors Country Club, Catalina Island Gold Course, Descanso Beach Club, Casino Ballroom, and Avalon Grille, as well as all operations located at the resort town of Two Harbors. Accommodations in Two Harbors include historic Banning House Lodge, Villa Santa Cruz, and Villa Santa Rosa, comfortable camping cabins, and four campgrounds that contest to be the best in all of California, each offering unique experiences that make Catalina’s west end the best end.
“The vision of the Catalina Island Company is to be recognized as a leader in providing exceptional individual and group experiences to our guests and visitors and be a respected business partner with our employees, suppliers, and community,” said Michelle Leslie, Director of Marketing for the Catalina Island Company, in an email to the Log. “Our vision – like our history on Santa Catalina Island – is long-term. We will use our resources (human, physical, financial, and natural) [sustainably] to implement the highest quality plans, designs, and developments that create properties of enduring value. Along with other stakeholders, we are committed to preserving the natural beauty and unique character of Santa Catalina Island. In Avalon, Two Harbors, and other holdings, we will work to develop a master-planned, quality island community that preserves our history, culture, and authenticity. The overall objectives of our efforts are to make Catalina Island in general, and ICO properties in particular, a premier southern California vacation experience.”
For more information about the Catalina Island Company or to explore their properties, please visit https://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/.