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.
Collections Featured in Episode One: Downtown
- Catalina Island Museum
- Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
- Loyola Marymount University, Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library
- USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection
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.