TaleBrent Sumner

Magic Isle

TaleBrent Sumner
Magic Isle

Summary of the Story

It could be argued that William Wrigley, Jr. was a tourism visionary long before Walt Disney even thought of Disneyland, which opened in 1955. Thirty-four years earlier, in 1921, Wrigley purchased Santa Catalina Island, 26 miles off the coast of Los Angeles.

From the outset, Wrigley was determined to make his island a destination with multiple attractions designed to lure visitors from the mainland. His vision was further driven by making Catalina fun and affordable. He wanted the “average person” who paid a nickel for a pack of his chewing gum to be able to enjoy time on the island.

So Wrigley set about improving the City of Avalon with hotels, restaurants, beautiful plantings, a theater and dance hall (called the Casino).

To generate more attention and tourists, he made the Island the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs, which he owned. Wrigley built the Catalina Country Club to house the team’s lockers and provide a gathering place for players. The team continued to train on the island until 1951.

In 1929, he built the iconic Catalina Casino, which boasts the world’s largest circular ballroom. It is 20,000 square feet with a 180-foot (55 m) diameter dance floor, which can accommodate 3,000 dancers. Admission was free, part of Wrigley’s commitment to making things affordable and enjoyable.

French doors encircle the room connecting the dance floor with the "Romance Promenade," an open balcony that runs around the building. To reach the ballroom on the top level the Casino building has two ramped walkways, both in enclosed towers that extend out from the circular building. Wrigley took the idea to use ramps instead of stairs from Wrigley Field, his Chicago Cubs stadium. The ramps allowed the large numbers of people using the ballroom to quickly move to and from their destinations. They each have small lobby areas just below the dance floor level.

The Avalon Theater is a movie theater on the first level of the Casino, with a seating capacity of 1,150. The theatre is sound insulated so that patrons do not hear the band or dancers in the ballroom above. The circular domed ceiling has notable acoustics and has been studied by acoustical designers. A speaker on the theatre stage can speak in a normal voice without a microphone, and be heard clearly by all in attendance. The theater's interior walls retain the original Art Deco murals.

A travel writer captured the feel of Catalina in the lead to a story about Wrigley — “This island off the southern California coast south of Los Angeles has long been cherished as the Capri of California: a romantic getaway where lovers hike into the hills, float on sunset cruises, tour museums and botanical gardens, browse through specialty shops, and dine in style in the quaint tourist town of Avalon. The one-square-mile village of 2,000 permanent residents is a garden spot that has drawn as many as 10,000 visitors on a weekend day.”

As the Tale, Magic Isle reveals, the 4th generation of Wrigleys is in charge of the island now. Almost 100 years after William Wrigley, Jr. purchased Catalina, the infrastructure requires funding, new attractions must be conceived and developed, and other destinations competing for the tourism dollar must be addressed. Alison Wrigley Rusack speaks in the film about her commitment to her great-grand-father’s legacy and the many efforts underway to honor it.


Video Segment : Magic Isle


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Lesson Plan 1
Language Arts, Science
Grades 4-8

Lesson Plan 2
Writing History and Science
Grades 6-8

Lesson Plan 3
English Language Arts & Social Studies
Grades 6-8

Lesson Plan 4
Language Arts (3-8), Social Studies (3-4) 
Grades 3-8

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