Let’s Swing at Santa Catalina Islands Casino on Avalon Bay
Read Jetsetters Magazine at www.jetsettersmagazine.com
To read this entire feature FREE with photos cut and paste this link: http://www.jetsettersmagazine.com/archive/jetezine/shows/theater/california/casino/casino.html
In 1930s and '40s, this is where you came to dance night away with your beau, or perhaps meet that new handsome man or pretty girl. Since its Grand Opening Memorial Day weekend in 1929, Santa Catalina Island’s Casino has been and continues to be a main attraction.
The maple, white oak and rosewood dance floor in circular ballroom on top floor could hold up to 500 dancing couples. Nightly they arrived by steamship from Los Angeles, a two-hour trip one-way.
The art deco masterpiece that is Casino became a world-famous landmark, thanks to nationwide nightly big band broadcasts. “From beautiful Casino Ballroom overlooking Avalon Bay, at Catalina Island, we bring you music of . . . ” told radio listeners they were about to hear best of big bands. Every one from Glen Miller to Harry James to Jimmy Dorsey to Woody Herman performed to enthusiastic dancers and listeners. For 28 seasons Casino Ballroom averaged 4,000 guests every night. The largest group of dancers ever gathered in 1938 for Kay Kaiser’s Band: 6,200 people.
It was an elegant time when dress code included high heels for ladies. Smoking was never allowed in ballroom—floor-to-ceiling doors opened to a balcony outside—so original dance floor has never been sanded down or refinished.
William Wrigley, Jr., who purchased Santa Catalina Island in 1919, built Casino because his wife, Ada, and her sisters loved to dance. In 1920s, word casino was Italian, meaning a place of gathering or entertainment, or a grand dance pavilion—nothing at all to do with gambling.
Although style of Casino is referred to as Moorish Alhambra, building has become premier example of art deco style so prevalent in 1930s.
At 130-feet tall, Casino reached height limit in Los Angeles county at time of construction. For awhile it was tallest building in LA. Five hundred workmen had worked three shifts daily for 14 months to complete structure. The design was considered simple for time—no heating or air conditioning—and clay roofing tiles were made on island. But Wrigley spared no expense; chandeliers were designed by Tiffany. In lobby, black walnut wood alone is valued today at $3.9 million. Vibrantly-colored ceiling frescos, decorated with 22 carat gold leaf and sterling silver leaf, were so well-executed that they have never needed restoring.