We visit Catalina Island once a week. Since I joined the ship we've been to Catalina 4 times, but yesterday was only the second time I was able to get off. A lot of crew don't get off here because it's a tender port and that can be a bit of a hassle. But from my two visits I really like Catalina Island, or what little I've seen of it so far.
The most prominent building in Avalon is the Catalina Casino. Yesterday I took a behind the scenes tour of the Casino. Did you know that in Italian the word Casino means "place of gathering" or "place of entertainment". The Avalon Casino is a place of gathering and entertainment but it is not and never has been a gambling casino.
The Casino took 14 months to build. Construction took place 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 1500 men worked in 8 hour shifts. The cost to build the casino was $2 million dollars. The Casino is huge. It's about 12 storeys high, and houses a theatre, ballroom, dressing rooms, projection room, a bar, a private viewing room and a musuem.
The casino was built by chewing gum owner William Wrigley Jr who also owned the Chicago Cubs baseball team. The Chicago Cubs stadium used ramps instead of stairs allowing large numbers of spectators to move quickly to their seats, Wrigley used the same ramps in the Avalon Casino.
The theatre is on the lower level of the casino. It seats 1184 people. At the back of the theatre are the VIP seats - they have the best acoustics. In the centre there is an echo, and if you talk while in those seats the whole theatre can hear you. Don't tell your secrets. And if you're there to watch a movie avoid those particular seats.
The theatre also has it's original pipe organ that was used during silent movies. It's still played today during silent movie festivals and on weekends. It's one of 4 remaining organs of it's type.
The walls and domed ceiling on of the theatre are covered in a John Gabriel Beckman mural. He also did the 9 panel paintings at the entrance to the casino. The ceiling is covered in sterling silver and gold leaf. It's one fancy theatre. Unfortunately I won't get to see a movie here, as we always sail before the movie times!
The lobby of the theatre is black walnut and the wood alone is worth $4 million dollars.
Above the theatre is a private viewing room for the Wrigley family and the projection room. The projection room still houses the original two projectors plus a modern digital projector.
On the top floor of the casino is the 20,000 sq ft ballroom - the world's largest circular ballroom. The casino building is so well designed that there can be 3000+ dancers in the ballroom and they cannot be heard in the theatre below.
The Tiffany lighting fixture can be lowered to waist height for cleaning. Hidden behind the lighting is a huge wooden fan.
The ballroom is surrounded by a balcony with views over Avalon, Descanso Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
The tour I was on lasted about an hour and included admission to the Catalina Island Museum. The cost was $25.00. I really enjoyed it but then again I like learning useless trivia and history. I didn't make it to the museum because I needed to get back to the ship. I'll save the museum for another day.