The Catalina Casino in Avalon is perhaps the most high profile and iconic image of Catalina Island on the entire island. Perched on the edge of a bluff (known as Sugar Loaf Point) on the north section of the Avalon harbor, the Catalina Casino is a 12 story, circular building with bright pink roof that has been represented in thousands of photographs, movies and other means of media depicting Catalina Island. The Casino is home to an art gallery, movie theater and ballroom. Today the Catalina Casino is an open door for visitors and locals alike to explore its theatre, museum and art exhibits. On the weekends the latest Hollywood blockbuster is played in the theatre.
The Catalina Casino is not literally a casino in which visitors come to gamble but was conceived as a central meeting place for Catalina Island residents and visitors during the island's early years. The term casino is of Italian origin and means gathering place or festive area. The Catalina Casino was first constructed under the William Wrigley Jr. era of the 1920s. It was designed by Sumner A. Spaulding and Walter Weber. It was during this time that the Wrigley had ambitious plans to turn the island into a world class tourist destination. The first round of construction began in February of 1928. The building was completed in May of 1929 at a cost of $2 million dollars. The Catalina Casino was the first completely round, steel reinforced structure in America. The building's steel frame consists of a cantilever design, allowing the interior of the ballroom and the theatre to be completely free from vertical support columns.
Two ramp walkways extend from the center core of the casino. The ramps were implemented by WIlliam Wrigley Jr. who found them to be an efficient use of moving people in and out of public areas through the use of the ramps at his Chicago Cubs Stadium in Chicago.
The Catalina Casino is 180 feet in diameter and the height of a 12 story office building. Over 50 miles of electric wire, 2,500 tons of steel and over 100,000 bags of cement were used in the construction of the Casino. Furthermore a great deal of effort was put in to the construction of the theatre within the casino. All throughout the theatre is a collage of amazing artwork. To construct this artwork over 60, 000 four inch squares of silver foil and 500 square feet of 22 carat gold leaf were used. Near the front of the Catalina Casino is the Page PIope organ. Built in Lima, Ohio, it is one of only three ever constructed. The organ was brought in and installed to accompany the early silent pictures that would play at the theatre in the 1930s, as well as be used to pump music into Avalon Bay. The organ has four separate keyboards controlling air to more than 1,200 separate pipes. The pipes are all concealed behind the theatre's murals. To this day on select nights the organ is played before the beginning of certain movies.
The upper level of the Casino is home to the world's largest circular ballroom. . Measuring 156 feet in diameter , the dance floor was originally built at 134 feet and could accommodate 2,500 couples. A 12 foot wide table terrace now covers the outer area of the floor. This reduction in size still allows for 1,750 couples or 3,500 individuals. During the 1930s and 1940s the ballroom became world famous as a home to "Big Band" dancing. Completely renovated a few years ago the ballroom now also includes five Tiffany Chandeliers, an elevated stage, raised seating areas around the back and a complete bar setup.
Around the perimeter of the Catalina Casino is a 14 foot wide balcony that encircles the Casino building that is 56 feet above the ground. During ballroom events people can come out onto this balcony to get a breath of fresh air and see all of Avalon laid out below.
The ground floor of the Catalina Casino is home to the Catalina Island Museum and Catalina Island Art Gallery. Open year round the museum displays early Catalina Indian artifacts , topographical maps, marine specimens and historical photographs. The Catalina Island Art Gallery features art by local artists. In addition, paintings, sculptures and island crafts are also on display.
Outside of the Casino near tear the flagpole is an anchor that is over 250 years old. The anchor was made in Sweden. In 1948 the anchor was recovered from the floor of Avalon Bay. Flanking the anchor are four old blocks of Catalina soapstone and steatite. These blocks were removed from an ancient Indian bow quarry that is near the Empire Landing on Catalina Island in 1959.