Five Pasadenans and Santa Catalina Island

“This is the story of five Pasadenans who have had a lasting effect on Santa Catalina Island,” noted then-Pasadena Historical Society (now Pasadena Museum of History) board member Sidney K. Gally in a presentation he gave here in June 1992. He subsequently reprised the talk at that year’s annual meeting of the Catalina Island Museum Society.

Watercolor of Catalina by Jae Giddings Carmichael
Jae Giddings Carmichael (1925-2005). Untitled [Catalina Island], n.d. Watercolor. (Gift of Rosemarie Zaragoza, 2013.007.002)
Gally’s credentials as a scholar of local history are well known. In a heartfelt statement on his passing in 2016, PMH noted: “Few have had as long and intimate a relationship with Pasadena as Sid Gally. He was Pasadena through and through – a third generation City native who attended local schools, worked here, and lived much of his life in a home that his grandparents built. Most of all, he never stopped learning about the City and sharing his depth of knowledge about the place he loved. A pillar of Pasadena Museum of History, Sid was honored in 2014 with the designation Trustee Emeritus in recognition of his more than thirty years of dedicated volunteer service. His scholarly research, detailed reminiscences, voluminous writings, and amusing quips are now, themselves, part of local history.”

Beyond his focus on Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley, Gally was deeply knowledgeable about two California communities with which his family also had close ties, Catalina Island and Ojai. It is not surprising, then, that he would turn his attention to the symbiotic relationship between his hometown and the popular island getaway where his family, like so many fellow Pasadenans, flocked for relaxation and socializing in a beachfront setting. As Gally pointed out, Pasadena residents discovered the island’s charms early in our own city’s history and were already taking advantage of the picturesque destination in the 1880s.

In relating the stories of the five Pasadenans who influenced the development of Catalina, Gally traces numerous parallels between the work these men were accomplishing here and how it related to their island ventures. For instance, it is interesting – but not surprising – that the founder of the Valley Hunt Club also founded the Tuna Club of Avalon. Unsurprisingly, as Gally states, “none were native Pasadenans. Some lived in Pasadena only briefly, but Pasadena provided a link between them and others which resulted in irreversible changes to the island.”

Exerpt from Pasadena Weekly Star, July 24, 1895 (Ephemera Collection, PAS-4-11)

With this introduction, we are pleased to begin a blog series developed from Sidney K. Gally’s original 1992 presentation, “Five Pasadenans and Santa Catalina Island.” In subsequent posts you will discover more about the following men whose influence shaped the Catalina Island that we know today.

Businessman Hancock Banning introduced Pasadena residents to Catalina Island in the 1880s. He subsequently became one of its owners and early developers, subdividing the hills and creating terraces for choice residential lots. He also supervised construction of the famed St. Catherine Hotel (1918-1966).

Peter Gano, a civil engineer and craftsman, lived and worked in Altadena and Pasadena. He built the stunning Queen Anne-style Victorian residence that still overlooks Avalon Harbor, Hollyhock House, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The home’s history includes a bittersweet origin story of lost love!

Charles Frederick Holder was instrumental in popularizing Catalina as a fishing paradise through his many articles and books. Holder, who moved to Pasadena from the East for health reasons, is best known locally as the founder of the Valley Hunt Club. He also founded the Tuna Club of Avalon.

William Wrigley, Jr., whose stately mansion on South Orange Grove is now headquarters of the Tournament of Roses®, is undoubtedly the best known among these five men to most present-day Pasadena residents. Infatuated by his first visit to Catalina in 1919, Wrigley purchased the majority of shares in the Santa Catalina Island Company, vowing to make the island a famous and attractive resort. The Wrigley’s summer home in Avalon, Mt. Ada, is now a luxury bed and breakfast resort.

David Malcolm Renton, who built many homes and bungalows in Pasadena as well as additions to Wrigley’s Orange Grove property, was instrumental in bringing Wrigley’s plan for Catalina to reality. In Gally’s words, “Together they [Wrigley and Renton] changed Avalon from a post-Victorian town to a modern resort.”

- Jeannette Bovard

Read Part 2 in the series, Hancock Banning: A Pasadenan on Catalina.