Catalina Island History
||People have been drawn to this tiny town of 4,000
residents (another 10,000 visitors on weekends) for thousands
of years. They have come to work, play, seek their fortunes
or raise their families. The island has seen Native Americans,
explorers, ranchers, miners, hunters, soldiers and even sport
fishermen. Not to mention tourists.
There were none of those, of course, when people first began living
here about 7,000 years ago, according to estimates. Early settlers
harvested the rich resources of the sea: everything from abalone
and mollusks to fish and marine mammals such as sea lions. Since
the semi-arid island offered limited plant resources, residents
tended to be traders for their various needs. It is believed the
Indians living here called their island Pimu and themselves Pimungans.
They were known as excellent seamen who paddled their plank canoes
across the sometime treacherous channel to trade with mainlanders.
When the Spanish colonized the island, new diseases killed many
of the Indians who had little immunity. By the 1820s, the vast majority
of the descendants of early Indians had either died or moved to
the mainland. In 1849, the news of a gold discovery brought people
from all over the world to California. Squatters laid claim to different
areas of the island and several coves today still bear their names:
Weston Beach, Johnson’s landing. Failed gold prospectors came
to the island and found silver in some quantity but permanent settlers
Union soldiers were dispatched to the island to determine whether
it would be suitable for a reservation for displaced Indians. The
barracks they built are still standing. Soon after, the island began
to be dotted with tents in the summer as more adventurous mainlanders
sailed the channel to picnic on the island and escape the heat of
inland California. Catalina Island began to develop as a vacation
destination. The island changed hands repeatedly. It was bought
in 1887 by George Shatto, a young businessman who decided to develop
Catalina as a tourist resort. He built the harbor.
The island in 1896 became the birthplace of the glass-bottomed
boat. But tourism was evident well before that. In 1886, a newspaper
account termed Catalina “the most popular summer resort on
the Pacific Coast.” The island became particularly popular
for sports fishing. The island has long been known also for its
native plants which survived for centuries. Catalina was a sort
of working ranch as various animals such as deer, pigs and goats
were introduced. They chomped regularly on the native plants, which
somehow survived. Even today, descendants of the various animals
roam the island.
Much of the modern-day characteristics of Santa Catalina began
to be formed with William Wrigley Jr. The chewing gum magnate bought
the island unseen in 1919.In the past, Catalina had often been compared
to Italian resorts such as the island of Capri. But Wrigley wanted
more of an old California feel rather than the Old World. He did
such mundane but crucial improvements as construction of a power
plant and an upgraded sewer system. He also added a lot of aesthetic
improvements such as the famous landmark casino seen from the waterfront.
He even brought his baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, here for spring
training. One of his obvious imprints still seen today is the tile
work that is found everywhere -- on storefronts, fountains and stairways.
A myriad of designs range from Moorish geometrics to more literal
portrayals of macaws, toucans and parakeets -- all adding to the
charm of Catalina Island.