Avalon Theatre - Catalina

1 Casino Way    | map

Avalon, Catalina Island, CA   90704

(310) 510-0179

Website: www.visitcatalinaisland.com

Opened:  May 29, 1929 with the Douglas Fairbanks film "The Iron Mask."

Architects:  Sumner M. Spaulding and Walter I. Webber. John Gabriel Beckman did the murals. The site Ask Art has a bit about Mr. Beckman and the Avalon murals.

Seating: 1,184

This underwater deco confection is on the ground floor of William Wrigley Jr.'s monumental Casino Building -- with the ballroom above it. It's still owned by the Wrigley family and operated by their Santa Catalina Island Co.

Construction was managed by David M. Renton, who did many other projects for Mr. Wrigley. The building, which originally cost $2 million, received a restoration in 1994.  The original 4/16 Page theatre organ is still in use.

The Casino was built to replace an earlier dance pavilion on the site, the Sugarloaf Casino, named for the Sugarloaf rock formation it sat on. Much of that rock was removed for construction of the new building.

The theatre was profiled in a May 10, 1930 article in the trade magazine Exhibitors Herald-World. Thanks to theatre historian Cezar Del Valle for the find. He included the piece in a Theatre Talks post about the Avalon.

“Overlooking the bay of romantic Avalon, metropolis (for it is that) of Santa Catalina Island stands the latest of William Wrigley Jr.’s magnificent gestures to wholesome pleasures, a building of steel and stone which yet has all the gossamer unreality of a fairy queen’s palace. It is called the Casino and it houses a fully equipped motion picture theatre and ballroom.

The architecture of the exterior is of a Mediterranean pattern, a style that is followed throughout the foyers and corridors inside. It is within the theatre itself that all traditional manners are flung aside to create an original environment in the essential Catalinian spirit-that of make-believe.

The walls of the theatre, which is located on the first floor, start converging toward the center of the ceiling and stage, almost but a few feet from the floor, and upon them is painted an impressionistic representation of Man unfettered amid a boundless Nature. It is allegory. It is history. And it may be hope. One assumes that it is also Catalina.

The auditorium, thus brightly painted in an original allegory and of atmospheric design, is broad and long, but it contains no pillars. There are about 1,300 seats, over 200 of them being luxurious three-wing back loge chairs. Seating is by the American Seating Company. The lighting is indirect, being projected upward from a false half-wall just inside the wall bearing the murals, which are thus illuminated.

The ballroom is located above the theatre. It is estimated that 2,000 couples can dance there at the same time.

The Casino cost $2,000,000. The architects were Webber and Spaulding.”

On the Cinema Treasures page for another Avalon theatre, the Riviera, Ken Roe notes:

"Tom White, a Hollywood promoter who held the lease on Avalon’s Riviera Theater, leased the new Avalon Theater in 1929 and also signed on as general manager of the Casino operation. His lifestyle proved too flamboyant, and his association with the Casino ended in December 1929. Art LaShelle, who had managed the Riviera and Avalon Theater’s for Tom White, stayed on to manage both theatres and facilities until 1939.

...Western Amusement Company, which operated a number of theaters on the mainland, obtained a lease on both the Avalon and Riviera Theaters in 1949. The company closed the Avalon Theater during the winter but kept the Riviera Theater open all year until it was converted into a bowling alley in 1961."

Stage: Yes, it's not just a film house. There's a stage with full fly capability. The dimmer system is a Frank Adam / Major installation with house lights on a board in the booth and stage lights on the board backstage. The master on the booth board can be controlled by a motor allowing operation at the booth front wall or from backstage.

Booth: ECN Electrical Forum has some photos of the booth equipment at the Avalon as it was in 2005 posted by Mxslick. At the time, the theatre had two Brenkerts (60s? 80s?) with RCA 1040 soundheads and Enarc lamps. Our correspondent noted that the Brenkerts still ran beautifully and were used only a few times a year -- occasionally for nitrate prints at the Silent Film Festival.

For daily use there's a platter system and a Xetron console (2 Kw lamp) with a Century SA on it. The soundhead was a Century R3 with a red LED retrofit.  Also see Mxslick's posts of photos of the motor generator set & controls, booth dimmerboard and dimmers and fuses.

Status: Open all year with first run films.

More Avalon information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Avalon for many comments.

Don't miss Sandi Hemmerlein's 2016 Avoiding Regret article about her tour of the building: "Come Gather Round All Ye Islanders at the Catalina Casino."

Hadley Meares did a fine 2014 article "The Catalina Casino: The Magic Isle's Art Deco Pleasure Palace" for the KCET series "Lost Landmarks."

Other theatres on Catalina Island: See our listing on the Theatres Along the Coast page for the Riviera Theatre, which closed in 1961. The listing also has comments about other theatres on Catalina including the Strand and the Bandbox.

A detail of the back wall mural.

photo: Sandi Hemmerlein - Avoiding Regret - 2016

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    Belle Epoque to Art Deco   

Thanks to Nile Hight for his set of eight Avalon Theatre photos, a
post of his on the Belle Epoque to Art Deco page in March 2016.

The building from above.
full size view | on Facebook

Nile notes: "That's Los Angeles rising in the
background. In Italian casino means gathering
place. There is no gambling in this building."

The Avalon's boxoffice.

The tile mural above the boxoffice.
full size view | on Facebook

An entrance door detail.
full size view | on Facebook

The Avalon's lobby -- with a
peek inside the auditorium.
A sidewall auditorium mural detail.
full size view | on Facebook

The rear of the auditorium.
full size view | on Facebook

    Michelle Gerdes Collection   

Thanks to Michelle for this great card of a
portion of the back wall of the auditorium.
full size view

    Emily Ho on Flickr   


The underwater murals in the
colonnade outside the theatre.
full size view

A look down the lobby of the Avalon in 2006.
full size view

A 2006 sidewall mural detail.
full size view

Another mural detail from 2006.
full size view

See Emily's 43 photo Catalina set
for more views of the Casino.

    David Prasad on Flickr   


A lovely lobby photo from Mr. Prasad.

    Spherical Panoramas   


A view of the proscenium from the site's
active 360 degree tour of the Avalon Theatre.
It's a work by Carel Struycken.

More from the panorama:

    USC Archives    

A c.1938 Dick Whittington Studios view
looking down on the building.
full size view

Also in the Archive:
 | from the north | view of the bay - 1928 |
| looking across the harbor - undated |
..and lots more


A look down on the Catalina Casino Building.

photo: Sandi Hemmerlein - Avoiding Regret - 2016

Thanks for the photos, Sandi! Don't miss her 2016
Avoiding Regret photo essay about her tour of the building
 "Come Gather Round All Ye Islanders at the Catalina Casino"
where there are many more fine views of both the
 theatre and the ballroom above.

A sea-themed tile mural above the boxoffice.

photo: Sandi Hemmerlein - Avoiding Regret - 2016

[ click on any of Sandi's photos for a larger view ]

The auditorium from the booth.

photo: Sandi Hemmerlein - Avoiding Regret - 2016

Sandi notes: "Apparently the acoustics are so good—and the
auditorium is so sound-proof—that a full band could be playing for a
room full of dancers upstairs, and it would never interrupt the
 sound of the movie being projected below."

A detail of the Botticelli girl atop the proscenium.

photo: Sandi Hemmerlein - Avoiding Regret - 2016

A back wall view.

photo: Sandi Hemmerlein - Avoiding Regret - 2016

Thanks, Sandi!

See the rest of the Catalina Casino photo essay for more fine
views of the theatre and the ballroom. The other two chapters of
her Catalina adventure are "The Island Where the Buffalo Roam"
and "The House of Chewing Gum and Roses."

Visit the Avoiding Regret Facebook page.
She's everywhere! You can also find Sandi
 on Twitter and Instagram.

    Cinema Treasures   

A postcard view of the auditorium back wall.
A vintage booth view contributed
to the site by Dallas Movie Theaters.

A 2009 look at an Avalon lobby light fixture by prolific
Cinema Treasures contributor Hollywood 90038.
full size view

An auditorium back wall shot by Hollywood 90038.
full size view

A look toward the screen in
2009 by Hollywood 90038.
full size view

See the site's page on the
Avalon Theatre for 13 more photos.

    Cezar Del Valle - Theatre Talks    

www.theatretalks.com | theatretalks.blogspot.com

A postcard of the theatre's interior from
Cezar Del Valle's Theatre Talks collection.
full size view

A view of the rear of the auditorium from a
 1930 Exhibitors Herald-World article on the theatre
featured in a Theatre Talks article by Cezar.
full size view

A look at the theatre's entrance
from the 1930 article.
full size view

The caption reads: "A corridor of the Casino leading to
the theatre, which is located on the main floor of the building.
The design here is of Mediterranean motifs, in common
with the exterior, but unlike the auditorium."

    L.A. Public Library Collection   


A 1929 view of the auditorium from the Library's collection.
full size view

This photo is also featured in the 1930
 1930 Exhibitors Herald-World article on the theatre
where the caption reads: "Auditorium of the theatre looking
toward the stage. Observable here is the manner in which
 the walls, short way from the floor, begin to converge,
quickly becoming the ceiling, forming a sky-like canopy."

Also in the collection:
| boxoffice and entrance - 1929 | theatre entrance from above - undated |
 | ballroom - 1929 | Casino exterior from the water - 1929 |
 | ballroom - c.1937 - Herman Schultheis |
 | ballroom stage - c.1937 - Schultheis |
 | Casino exterior - 1977 |
 ..and many more island views if you care to look.

    Brian Michael McCray Postcard Collection   

Thanks to Brian for this lovely postcard view of
the Casino from his collection. 400+ of his cards
 used to be displayed on Picasa until Google
decided to "retire" that platform in 2016.
full size view

    Penny Postcards   


A postcard exterior of the Casino.
full size view | on the PP site

Also on the site:
| theatre interior -- a smaller view of the one
in Cezar Del Valle's collection |
 | more  island cards |

    Santa Catalina Island Co.   

 An auditorium view from the Santa Catalina
Island Company website's Avalon Theatre page.
A closer look at the proscenium.
The rear of the auditorium.

A look at the auditorium that used to appear on the
Santa Catalina Island Company's website.
full size view

See the site's page on the Avalon Theatre
for tour information and other photos.

    A Visit To Old Los Angeles & Environs   


A postcard of the Avalon harbor before
construction of the Casino building. It's from
Part 3 of this site's visit to Catalina.
full size view | on the CSULB site

Brent Dickerson's delightful series has
four chapters on a trip to Catalina featuring
many vintage photos and postcards:
| San Pedro / Catalina Part 1 | Catalina Part 2 |
 | Catalina Part 3  | Catalina Part 4 |