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 


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