Incline L.A.: Catalina's Island Mountain Railway (Episode 3)

The year was 1892, and Catalina Island was in foreclosure.

Its owner, George Shatto, had envisioned a resort town on the island but had built few tourist amenities apart from the three-story Hotel Metropole. When the island finally slipped from Shatto's hands, its new owners purchased it for just $280,000.

Today, sun-soaked Catalina Island -- a rugged mountain range rising from the sea some twenty miles off the coast of Los Angeles -- seems like a natural setting for a resort town. But at the time, its future as a tourist destination was in no way assured. It took a sustained campaign of new construction and scenic beautification -- spearheaded by the island's new owners, the Banning family -- to transform Catalina and the town of Avalon into a tourist's paradise.

The Banning brothers -- Joseph, William, and Hancock -- capitalized on Catalina's natural charms, encouraging sport fishing and big-game hunting and sponsoring stagecoach tours of the island. But nature alone was not enough. Among the other changes the Bannings brought: liquor at the previously dry Hotel Metropole; a vast tent-cabin city; a golf course.

And between 1904 and 1906, they built a monument to modern industrial technology: an incline railway, its station just steps away from the wharf in Avalon.

Need to catch up? Watch Part 1 on incline railways in downtown L.A. and Part 2 on Mt. Washington's residential railway.

Collections Featured in Episode One: Downtown

Experts Featured in Episode One: Downtown

  • John Boraggina, Catalina Island Museum
  • Brian Marcroft, private collector and co-founder of the Scenic Mt. Lowe Railway Historical Committee
  • Ralph Morrow, Jr., former mayor of Avalon

Special thanks to Water Tower for permission to use their music.