Friday, February 26, 2016

Wrigley gardens, museum, 'sky' airport celebrate Catalina's diversity

 William Wrigley Jr. put his heart and his pocketbook into his beloved Catalina Island, where his widow erected a loving memorial in the Botanic Garden. A world of native plants, and a stunning tribute to a generous man await.  



HOLLYWOOD STARS misbehaved there.
Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. purchased stock in it, sight unseen.
Today, tourists come from all over the world.
Such was and is the allure of Santa Catalina Island, off the California coast.
The "fame" started with the chewing gum icon.
 Who's this? A young, pre-blonde,
Marilyn Monroe, on Catalina. 
Right, Wrigley smiles on Catalina.
Once Wrigley sailed over to see what he'd invested in, he bought out other investors, becoming sole owner of the island.
THAT WAS in 1919, nearly a century ago. Today, Wrigley's stamp is felt throughout the island. And Hollywood's happy ghosts inhabit its streets, bistros and hotels.
The Chicago Clubs spent many spring training days
in the lovely climate and surroundings of Catalina.
The Catalina Museum, moving sometime soon into new multi-million-dollar digs, is now housed in the Catalina Casino Wrigley built. There, we enjoyed historic photos of the Chicago Cubs' time in Catalina.
AVID BASEBALL fan Wrigley brought the team there for spring practice, which the team continued until the 1950s, past Wrigley's 1932 passing.
His story is a true American success story: as a 13-year old kid, he sold his father's soap door-to-door from a two-horse wagon in rural Pennsylvania and New York. The gum he gave out free, to purchasers of the soap, was so popular that he went into the gum manufacturing business in Chicago.
THE REST is history. Within years, he was a millionaire, acquiring a handsome share of The Cubs, and buying up 90 per cent of Catalina. He built a dock and used his own private funds to establish electricity, water and sewer systems.
  Mrs. Wrigley built a beautiful memorial to her ambitious husband, and guests to the Wrigley
Gardens can stroll up to it, and even to its top, with a lovely view of the gardens and sea. 
Soon, Hollywood discovered what Wrigley was excited about. Catalina's proximity to Los Angeles allowed the stars easy, quick access. Soon Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, and Johnny Weissmuller were sailing their boats to Avalon Harbor.
Marilyn Monroe came there as a young bride, while her first husband was serving his country. By day, the stars swam, fished and enjoyed the scenery. By evening, they mingled with islanders in restaurants and bars on the island’s two towns — Avalon and Two Harbors.
They drank, dined, danced and caroused. Errol Flynn explained the island's pull: “...we were so intoxicated with the sheer zing of existence that we were half-mad..."
* * *
CATALINA ISLAND Museum’s impressive collection includes an impressive array of historical and cultural items.
With generous donations, the museum has grown to a bonanza of 150,000 items representing the island's archaeology, natural history and architectural accomplishments. Ephemera, newspapers, archives, postcards, three-dimensional items and 10,000 photos and negatives (rotated and dating back to 1880) tell stories of island life.
The Museum features a large and comprehensive collection of Catalina pottery and tile -- another Wrigley brain child -- manufactured in Catalina from 1927-1937.
Private jets take off and land in spectacular beauty on Catalina. 
BOAT MODELS, sport fishing items, artifacts from the Island's steamships and more have made the new museum necessary. The enormous collection also boasts valuable archaeological artifacts.
The Airport in the Sky's colorful bar and restaurant have lots of fun art.
Wrigley erected hotels and built the world's largest dance hall -- the museum's home for a bit longer: Avalon Grand Casino. He built a harbor, bird park and established Catalina Clay, providing work for locals. Its tiles and pottery are still admired worldwide.
His beloved Cubs trained on the island until 1951. Hollywood filmed dozens of films there.
In 1975, Mr. and Mrs. Philip Wrigley (the gum magnate's son and daughter-i-law) and Philip’s sister, Dorothy Wrigley
This small plane landed while we were on Catalina -- it's a small, spectacular
runway with a stellar view of the ocean and surrounding landscape.
Offield, deeded 42,000 acres owned by Santa Catalina Island Company to the Catalina Island Conservancy, giving control of 88% of the island. Wrigley's widow incorporated more than 60 of the island's 60 plant and animal species into the garden memorial.
* * *
THE AIRPORT in the Sky occupies a 1,602-foot-tall mountaintop at the center of the Island, 10 miles from Avalon. It's a fun destination, although our tour bus ride was jarring. We saw hikers and bikers, and a few private planes -- my choice for next visit.
The airport's single 3,250-foot-long runway was constructed by blasting two adjacent peaks, then using the resulting debris for fill.

Actors, artists fly high in novel about film's early days

The DC-3 Gifts and Grill restaurant is famed for its excellent buffalo burgers, which we sampled. They also offer chicken and vegetarian burgers, and our guide Manny raved about the Mexican specialties and buffalo tacos. In summer, the Grill's barbecues -- with live music from Island band Hot off the Range.
We also picked up some tasty buffalo jerky, and a collectible glazed tile in the gift shop.

Cookie, Keller and new friends take a ride on Kowloon Harbour.
COMING UP: Come with us to Asia. We're in Hong Kong now, and soon will be writing about our magnificent five-week odyssey. We'll travel on sampans, junks, bikes, trains, planes and cruise ships with occasional one-way streets (going the wrong way in a tuk-tuk.)  Then, can a scardey cat who once nearly drowned in a kayak ever take calmly to the waters again? Cookie overcomes a 30-year fear of kayaks, proving you can teach an old frightened dog a few new tricks. Join us by rickshaw or tuk-tuk, remembering to always explore, learn and live, and check us out Friday when we post for the weekend.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Bison on an island? Yes, because Hollywood put them on Catalina

This buffalo is probably happy to be on Santa Catalina, not freezing his hide off in Yellowstone Park this winter.



 With the stunning Pacific Ocean as their backdrop, these
bison roam, forage and take to the four-wheel roadways.


YEARS AGO, a Hollywood studio brought bison to Santa Catalina Island for a movie shoot.
The film was an obscure western penned by Zane Grey, the colorful writer who lived on Catalina for years.  It apparently didn't impress critics or the public, for it's tough to find much info about it.
And the bisons' role in the 1925 silent film? Well, their "ready for my close-up moment" didn't make it to the Oscars.  In fact, the bison scenes languished on the cutting room floor.
And afterwards, 14 critters were left on the island, probably because they seemed content, and likely because it would have been costly to return them to the mainland, where they'd probably have a rougher life!
Scrubby bush and prickly pear cactus are the habitat of the Catalina bison.
So they did what bison do:  they ate, slept, wandered and reproduced!
TODAY, THE bison are thriving -- so much so that their numbers are kept in check by careful monitoring and birth control for fertile females.
The bison are, indeed, part of the lure and lore of modern day Catalina.....
They are, obviously, not native. But their charisma and ability to adapt have made them an item on the Catalina Island "visitor/must see" list for the better part of a century.
The Zane Grey western, "The Vanishing American," has not a single bison in it and, according to researchers, the film terrain does not
This bison is sorry he isn't in Catalina. He's in Yellowstone.
even remotely resemble Catalina.
WHAT IS KNOWN is that  the bison herd grew over the decades, to upwards of 600. The bison now number about 150, in a program monitored by the Catalina Island Conservancy. And because the bison have become "stars" in Catalina's culture, the Conservancy has no plans to remove them from the island.

The bison were to be part of
a long ago Zane Grey movie.

Movie critics collaborated on novel

Our guide, with native American ancestry, reminded us that bison are revered by the Indian people. (He talked to the beasts, thanking them for allowing us into their home.  He even called a couple of the larger ones by name.) The Conservancy has developed a bison-care partnership with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Tongva. 7,000 years ago, they were Catalina's original inhabitants.
Some of the bison have been located to the colder climes of South Dakota. They're living out their lives on the Great Plains, on the Lakota's Rosebud Reservation -- where temperatures are at least 50 degrees average colder this time of year.

As one comes down from the buffalo area, one sees the
Pacific and a beautiful vista of Catalina's Avalon harbor.
OUR KPBS station featured another solution for controlling the herd's growth.  In 2009, a Conservancy study determined that a herd of between 150 and 200 would be good for both the bison and the island. So the herd was given animal birth control to maintain the population at that ideal number -- around 150 animals.
The goal of the birth control -- inoculation to females over two years -- is to maintain herd size. Normally, it would increase by 15% or more each calving season, so birth control keeps numbers manageable and bison healthier.  That makes for less environmental damage to the land. And because the vaccine is non-hormonal, it does not harm the critters or change their social structures, according to the conservancy's education office. It is also reversible after about a year, should research determine that the island can sustain greater numbers.
For now, they're at home on the Catalina range.

Catalina Island's Airport in the Sky is worth the drive when
you're looking for bison. Also take in the Wrigley Gardens.
Coming up:  We bid adieu to Santa Catalina  Island with a look at other treasures you might miss on a quick visit.  The Catalina Airport -- also known as The Airport in the Sky -- is a charming place where you can watch small craft taxi in and out on the top-of-the-world runway, find good Mexican cooking in the cafe, and stroll through a nicely marked garden.  Also, the Wrigley Botanical Gardens and Memorial to the generous philanthropist and bubble gum magnate is worth a few hours. It is home to 37 well maintained acres of native and specialty plants, plus a memorial with sweeping ocean views. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Friday late afternoon when we post for the weekend at:

Friday, February 12, 2016

Catalina casino: glamorous past, glittering present -- but, wait, there's no gambling!


The historic Catalina Casino was built in record time and opened in 1929, a splendid, circular art deco masterpiece.
Musician John Tusak, a gifted organist, plays for an hour before the movies,
on Fridays and Saturday nights, at the world renowned Catalina Casino. 


DON'T EXPECT to see buxom cocktail waitresses balancing their drink trays. You won't hear the click-click-click of the roulette wheel, or hear the squeals of delight.
No large-screen football, or hundreds of slot machines at play.
But Santa Catalina and its historic Casino are as much a spectacle as Las Vegas.   Instead of a craps table, 
Bing Crosby was one of many to sail to Avalon from the
mainland, to fish, enjoy the casino and sing a tune or two.
the auditorium's centerpiece is a magnificent three-keyboard pipe organ, brilliantly played each weekend by John Tusak, at 6:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.  New films usually change Fridays for the next week's run. Check the website (below).

Meaning of the word
SOMETIMES spelled with a double "s" the word, cassino can mean a place where cards are played. The Catalina Casino takes its name from that original meaning of the word: a building or room used for meetings, or public amusements, for dancing, gaming, and enjoyment.
Revelers gathered throughout the '30s, '40s and
1950s, and today special events, weddings
and new year's celebrations are staged.
The meaning is honored today, since the Catalina Casino has been the focal point of Santa Catalina Island entertainment and culture for nearly 87 years.  It opened on May 29, 1929. Although its patron, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. lived only until 1932, his son Philip continued to make the building available for grand functions, and saw that continuing generations would enjoy world famous entertainers, Broadway productions, and first-run motion pictures there.
The casino's beautifully designed auditorium hosts first-run movies, vintage
film festivals, and each weekend, two spectacular, free organ concerts. 
The movie theater, a masterpiece of art, is known for its perfect acoustics.  Tusak plays all the grand, old-time movie tunes -- including Gershwin, Berlin and Joplin  -- honoring the legacy of the Page Pipe Organ Company, the instrument's builder. First-run movies are shown nightly at 7:30 p.m., and Cusak entertains at 6:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, an hour before the film. Vintage film festivals are also staged from time to time.

A dominating presence
The lovely lobby of the Catalina Casino draws the visitor into a bygone era.
DOMINATING THE Avalon landscape from its regal perch at the edge of Avalon Bay, the casino exemplifies the style and romance of Catalina Island. When Wrigley built it, the price tag was a then staggering $2 million. Its designers were internationally known architects, Sumner A. Spaulding and Walter Weber, whose completely circular building was the first of its day.  It was designed in the popular art deco, Mediterranean revival style.
'Lilian's Last Dance' recalls a bygone era
A massive effort a few years ago restored the building to mint condition as a reminder of Catalina’s glorious past. The height of the building is 12 stories. Inside are a museum, a main floor theater, an upstairs promenade and a 20,000 square foot ballroom which can accommodate up to 1,500 dancers. 
THIS ELEGANT ROOM is still the world’s largest circular ballroom without supporting pillars, enjoyed by revelers on New Year's Eve and other special times, including weddings and birthdays. 
The beautifully preserved ballroom recalls a romantic time, when people dressed to the nines  

Each seat in the auditorium has a
little shelf beneath -- for the
gentlemens' hats, of course! 
 to dance within a lavish medley of rose-hued walls, beneath an arching, 50-foot ceiling.   Five Tiffany-inspired chandeliers and an elevated stage grace the room with classic, raised seating areas around the dance floor. To toast the event, wander back to the vintage, full-service bar in the rear.

VISITORS COME to gaze at the ballroom -- the lucky ones score an invitation to a celebration, or spring for the famed New Year's Eve party. The auditorium is the place to see films -- both vintage and recent releases -- and the lobby is a place to simply soak up the beauty of another era.
Beautiful trees, flowers and images of the nearby sea adorn the casnio's interior.
The Casino hosts Catalina’s major indoor events, including the New Year’s Eve celebration, the popular Catalina Island Jazz Festival and Catalina Film Festival. Tours of the casino are available most days if no one has booked the place.
Your personal jackpot comes in knowing a gorgeous, historic piece of history has been preserved -- and you're in it!

Bison roam Catalina, a remnant of a long forgotten film for which
they were photographed. But the buffalo footage was cut from the movie.
UP NEXT:  While we're in a "Catalina state of mind," did you know that the island is home to a herd of buffalo?  And that the bison had to be put on birth control to limit their reproduction? Years ago, Hollywood brought 14 bison to the island, used them in a film (their roles were cut in the editing!) then left them.  Now they're part of the lore and lure of a trip to Santa Catalina.  The island of romance is also the island of roaming buffalo. Remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us Friday afternoons for our weekend post at 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Love story with a brogue: Sure and begorrah 'Mullingar' delivers at San Diego Rep


Manny Fernandes and Carla Harting square off and eventually admit their attraction in a winning play at San Diego Rep.
From left, Richard Tibbets, Jim Mooney and Alicia Previn set the tone
for "Outside Mullingar," a lyrical tale of family, loyalty, pride and love. 

The pastoral pull of Ireland's countryside comes inside with 
"Outside Mullingar," San Diego Rep's first-rate production. 

and courtesy San Diego Rep 

YOU SUSPECT you're in for a treat from the moment you enter the Lyceum Theatre in downtown San Diego's Horton Plaza.
A spirited trio cuts loose with an on-stage jig, and soon the audience is tapping its toes to jaunty violin, guitar and flute tunes. Only the Irish (or Irish at heart) can convey the joyous melancholy of Celtic music. Alicia Previn's lively fiddle and winning smile show she's having fun and set the mood for "Outside Mullingar," with Richard Tibbits on flute and Jim Mooney on guitar. The audience sings along with “Wild Rover” before the action begins, so we're involved from the start.
PLAYWRIGHT Patrick Shanley  knows small town Ireland -- he's born and bred there, and understands the petty and large-hearted nature of country folk.  He nails the Irish gift for candor, through self-deprecation, humor and snap judgment. Through Shanley's fine ear for the cadence of Irish speech, the engaging story unfolds.
The Lyceum in Horton Plaza is home to San Diego Repertory Theatre.

'Outside Mullingar' plays my native Montana, too!

WITH HALF of my lineage tracing to the Emerald Isle, I was mesmerized. I've hiked the countryside near Mullingar where we've photographed its gentle hills and grazing critters. These characters are as real as the pastoral landscape -- viewed over a cuppa, admiring a stone fence.
A rustic farmhouse kitchen designed by Giulio Perrone brings the rising damp right in -- with stone and hide and tree trunks incorporated into the furniture and lovely nature imagery projected between scenes.
The banter between real-life husband and wife team Mike Genovese and
Ellen Crawford  is a treat to listen to. The two play aging farm neighbors. 
TWO LONELY offspring -- each caring for an elderly parent on adjacent farms not far from Dublin -- are sparring, as they've done since childhood.
Grace Delaney’s adept dialect coaching pays off as four fine actors banter, judge and show
Will they find true love? Manny Fernandes, Carla Harting.
their stuff. We meet a cranky old farmer Tony Reilly (Mike Genovese) who announces to his son Anthony (Manny Fernandes) that he will not be leaving him the farm. In the old man's eyes, Tony is not a true Reilly -- resembling too much his mother's clan and temperament. Sure he’s worked the land his entire life, but he doesn’t “love it” like his father. MOTHER AND daughter Aolfe and Rosemary Muldoon (Ellen Crawford and Carla Harting) show up, and join the men in generational kvetching, neighborly barbs and unsolicited criticism.
The "children," 40-something Anthony and Rosemary, have known one another all their lives. Neither has married. We're cheering them on, despite a complex history, for they obviously have a fondness for one another.
ONCE THE parents pass, we reach the romance part, with Shanley taking his sweet Irish time. The story unfolds leisurely -- like time in a pub on a rainy night. Lacing the story with wry wit and sarcastic humor for which my people are known, Shanley brings a rural comedy-drama to our doorstep with universal themes: loneliness, pride,  forgiveness and love.
Surely Shanley, of the riveting Pulitzer Prize winning "Doubt," and wonderful film, "Moonstruck," would approve of Todd Salovey's deft direction. All four principles are terrific, prompting tearful sighs and bursts of laughter. 
TREAT YOURSELF, and your 10 best friends, your mum, da, sibling or beau. It's held over through Feb. 21 at San Diego Rep. And if you're near Billings, Montana, my "hometown playhouse," Billings Studio Theatre, has "Outside Mullingar" on tap through Feb. 13.
Catalina Island's famed Casino is a marvel to behold -- up next here!

UP NEXT: The famed Catalina Casino on the island of Santa Catalina, is not a casino as we've come to know it, but a gathering place, as per the original definition. With a fantastic organ concert, to boot. Come with us to this historic, one-of-a-kind theater and museum, long a party place, concert and celebration venue on California's only island paradise, Santa Catalina.  The Wrigley fortune built it more than 90 years ago and it is beloved by natives and tourists. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekends and as the spirit moves: