Thursday, January 30, 2014

San Diego, CA - 26 miles Back to the Mainland


Well, you know how Gary and I like to walk around wherever we visit and Avalon is no exception. Walking through a town gives us a great feeling for the town. We get to see lots of out-of-the way places, the places that locals visit and inhabit. We began the day with a walk up to the Wrigley Mansion which is now known as Mt Ada with a 6-room B&B - with the best view on the island. It is also on the Register of Historic Places. To get there we found some steps leading from one level to the next (love those steps. Note the two levels here with Gary on the second level).
and found ourselves walking along one street, looking out over the rooftops of the houses on the street below us.
In fact, some of these homes had decks which we could access from our ‘road’. Middle Road it was called. The architecture on Avalon varies from wood frame to colorful Catalina tile. Lots of white and pastel homes with red tile roofs. Built on a small valley with steep sides, it looks like a Mediterranean village set off by the blue of the ocean. We found some new buildings going up and some repairs going on. I’m thinking that if you want to work on homes, you need to like heights.

We found some lots on a steep slope that were being offered for sale - for between $950,000 to $1,200,000. But, who wouldn’t want a home in Avalon?
Here’s a view of these ‘buildable’ lots (as the sign called them). I’m not so sure this flatlander from Iowa would call them ‘buildable’. Here’s a picture from level with the slope. You can barely see Gary standing on the top of the lot on the road and the lower road is in the lower right of the picture. Now I realize that this is normal in towns built in valleys but I like to sleep in a bed on terra firma, not cantilevered out over a 45 degree slope.
And, here’s a view from the Casino across the Avalon valley. The ‘buildable’ lots are between the white railing along the upper road and the 3-story home below.
We walked higher up the slope taking in the gorgeous views. Then, thankfully, we began our climb back down the cliff. Below us we found the ‘guts’ of the town: the lumber yard, the electric plant, the warehouses, the desalination plant, etc. All hidden around a cove away from the touristy sections of the town. Yep, Gary and I like to see the out-of-the-way places.

At 12:30 we toured the Casino on a ‘Behind the Scenes’ Tour. Our guide knew everything about the Casino and related them all but he has been giving this tour way too often (4 times a day). He had rote phrases and, at one time, repeated something he had told us 10 minutes earlier word for word. We enjoyed the tour and seeing the insides of the Casino but his delivery was a bit stale.

Catalina has been the property of the Wrigley family since 1919, when William Jr., founder of the gum company, bought it for some $3 million. Before that the island was variously an Indian settlement, a Mexican colony and a way station for smugglers. It was discovered in 1542 by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese sailing from Mexico under the Spanish flag, then rediscovered by Sebastian VizcaĆ­no in 1602 and named Santa Catalina. For the next couple of centuries it was inhabited only by wild animals, primitive Indians and occasional groups of Spanish explorers. In the early 1800s the hunters and traders began arriving. Russian expeditions came down to hunt otter along the east, or windward, coast, and American fur traders swapped trinkets for skins with the Indians. The original inhabitants of the island, the Indians, were decimated by the diseases brought by the white man and shipped off to the mainland for conversion and for ‘volunteer’ work on missions. The American ownership of the island began in the late 1800’s with several failed attempts at settlement before Wrigley bought the island.

The Wrigley’s sold 88% of Catalina to the Catalina Conservancy in 1979. The Conservancy is now responsible for the sustainability and maintenance of the island. And, it the Conservancy which controls access to the interior and is trying to restore it to its original biodiversity.


One of Wrigley’s greatest buildings on the island was the Casino. Aha, you say, gambling. Nope, absolutely no gambling. ‘Casino’ means ‘gathering place’ in Italian and that is how it was designed: there’s a theater on the main level (the first designed for talking pictures) and a 20,000 sq. ft. ballroom on the top which can hold 3000 couples dancing. And, did they ever dance. Most of the large dance bands of the 40’s and 50’s played here to large crowds. At one point Kay Kyser and his band played while 6200 danced, all brought over to the island on the steamers. Today it also serves as the islands civil defense shelter with enough space to hold the entire island’s population and enough food for 2 weeks.

Here it the inside of the theater. Beautiful design but what you can’t see is the acoustics which are so good that a person can stand on the stage and be heard throughout the theater. Our guide stood in the middle of the aisle and it sounded as if he were speaking through a microphone. The acoustics were so good that they have been replicated many times, most famously in Radio City Music Hall. The paintings all around the inside are of the history of Avalon. Note the hat ‘racks’ on the bottom of each seat in the theater.
Elevator? No elevator. You can get to the dancing floor by the use of ramps which Wrigley copied from his baseball stadium. The ballroom was recently restored and a complete kitchen added in the back. Once, when the new high school was being rebuilt, the ballroom was used for the basketball games of the local team. One opponent walked around the floor several times looking out over the harbor and remarked, ‘Our basketball court is nothing like this.’
The Casino took only 14 months to complete since the workers were divided into 3 shifts and worked around the clock. Note the organ in front of the stage. It is an original Page Organ and is still played every Friday and Saturday.
The lobby leading to the theater is paneled in Black Walnut which cost $200,000 when it was built but is now valued at $4,000,000. The Casino is 12 stories tall and surrounded by the ocean on 3 sides. During the day its white facade gleams in the sunshine while at night, the lights of the building and its chandeliers gleam in the dark. It is a focal point for the harbor, iconic and remembered for years - as I can attest.

After we toured the Casino, we waked through the museum below. Here we found out about the Duke, Marilyn Monroe and other historical information about Avalon.


Back to the Way Back Machine - once when Deb and I managed to get into town, we saw the iconic character of Avalon, the Duke. He wore only a swim suit, was bald with an earring in one ear had had a barrel chest, from years of swimming. We asked around and found out that he was the ‘Duke of Catalina’. And that’s all we knew then but he was an interesting person and added to the aura of Avalon.
He was spotlighted in the Museum since he was so well known and was an authentic part of Catalina history. Here it says that he was born Leo Fishman in the Philippines to American parents in 1906. Because his parents died by the time he was 5, he lived in Chinese orphanages but found his way to Avalon in 1934 and fell in love with Catalina. He taught swimming and was a lifeguard in Avalon for decades where he was noticed by movie producers and had many extra parts in some big movies including the 1934 Mutiny on the Bounty with Clark Gable, Ten Commandments, Spartacus, many TV spots. Many think that Mr. Clean was modeled after him. He was good friends with the other "Duke" John Wayne and the other stars who came to the island. He died in 1977 in his winter home in Palm Springs.

For many years he was the official greeter in Avalon and greeted people coming off the steamers and ferries with a hearty smile and a ‘Hi Naybor.’


237marCA-2014-01-30-21-45.jpgMany movie starts have been in Avalon for long stretches of time, some still have a home here. But one of the most famous movie stars associated with the island is Marilyn Monroe. As Norma Jean Baker, she actually lived on the island before she was ‘discovered’ and actually worked at Lloyd’s, a candy and ice cream shop. She moved to Catalina in 1943 as a teenage bride when her husband Jim Dougherty, whom she married to escape life in foster care, was sent to the island by the merchant marines.
She eventually divorced Dougherty and moved to the mainland where the rest is well-known history.


Have you ever seen Catalina? If you’ve gone to many movies, you have. Quite a few movies have been shot here - some of the most recent are: The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Chinatown (1974), Jaws (1974), MacArthur (1977), Waterworld (1995), Multiplicity (1995), Apollo 13 (1995), and Amistad (1997).  There are many other movies such as The Hunt for Red October (1990), Suicide Kings (1997) and The Thin Red Line (1998) that were partially filmed off the coast of Catalina as well. 

Anytime a producer or director wanted a desert island scene with a beautiful harbor, rather than traveling to the South Seas, they made the short trip across the channel and stayed in Avalon. You want Tahiti, you want Pearl Harbor, you want the Philippines - try Avalon. 300 movies and TV shows have been filmed here and it was the playground for stars and celebrities for many years - until the airplane made travel to even more exotic destinations possible and affordable. With the advent of airplane travel after WWII, Catalina lost a bit of its allure.

We walked some more through the neighborhoods, up and down some more hills and then back to the harbor. It was time to leave Catalina and head back to the mainland. We’ve had a marvelous 2 days and I saw and learned so much more about Catalina than I had in my 20 weeks of working in White’s Landing. I’ve enjoyed the time to indulge in nostalgia and to introduce Gary to some of my memories.
We got on the ferry and headed off. Back on land, we retrieved our car, drove out of the marina and lo and behold! There was a Denny’s. Not gourmet but just what we were looking for. The coffee arrived hot, not warm, not tepid, but HOT. My skillet scramble arrived and the veggies were still sizzling on the plate. Gary's pancakes were light and fluffy. Could we ask for anything more?

When we got home, we had to turn on the heat in the RV AND the hot water heater. We had shut both off, along with the water itself, when we had left yesterday. But with both gas and electric on, our water heated quickly and we could take showers. Time to relax.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Santa Catalina, CA #1 - 26 Miles Across the Sea

As you might guess from the title, Gary and I have been to Santa Catalina Island in the town of Avalon. But, before I tell about our trip, I want to take you on a trip in the WayBack Machine, back to 1969 and 1970. I was just minding my own teacher business, probably doing lesson plans or correcting papers when a friend, Deb, called and asked if I wanted to work on Catalina Island for the summer. Well, that certainly wasn’t on my bucket list and the only thing I knew about it was that it was 26 miles from the mainland. Not a lot to base a decision on. But she had done her homework, had found that there was a Girl Scout Camp on the Island that was in need of some counselors, what the dates were, etc. The more she talked, the more I realized that I didn’t have any other plans and we began to look more into the opportunity.

And, thus in the summers of 1969 and 1970 we traveled out to Catalina Island (once we drove all the way and once we drove to Iowa where my parents were and flew to Catalina from there. It was a long trip and took a long time. 2986 miles and how many times can you count license places from different states?) But, we found Catalina and had 2 great summers at White’s Landing, a cove about 5 miles from Avalon, the main town on Catalina (really, the only town on Catalina). At that time the island of Catalina was owned by the Wrigley family (who knew that gum could buy you an island?) and they closely managed the growth of Avalon. There was only one road out of Avalon through the island to the other end and you had to go through the gate with a special pass to drive on this road. It was not in the best of shape and, since Catalina, is a desert island, if filled with canyons, mountains and the road dipped into the canyons and soared up to the mountains - with lots of switchbacks in between.

The camp was in an out-of-the-way place on an out-of-the way island. The only 2 ways to get to White’s Landing is via the ferry which ran from Avalon, at one end of the island, to Two Harbors, at the other end, or by the camp van which journeyed into town each day for supplies. Every now and then we’d get some time off and we’d take the trip into town either by boat or by the van. By the way, our phone # was 3F13. I told my mother that she could call me at that number and she had serious doubts about this trip. But, I’ve got fond memories of Avalon and my time spent on Catalina and have wanted to get back.

Here’s a map of the island showing where White’s Landing is in relation to Avalon. The road between the two is in red part of the way and yellow, green and red for the rest. The road from the camp at White’s Landing is not shown since it is not a public road but believe me, it was dirt, rutted and had lots of switchbacks. No wonder we didn’t make it into town too often. The road first had to wind its way from the shoreline up to the ridge line via many switchbacks. Lots of switchbacks. Then it wended its way across the cliffs towards Avalon and then begin the long descent into Avalon via many more switchbacks. A long trip if I remember correctly.
So, Gary and I planned a trip to Avalon on Wednesday which looked like the last day above 70 degrees and sunny for a while. We awoke early on Wed. morning, had breakfast, packed and drove through a dense fog to Dana Point, CA
where we boarded a ferry to Catalina Island. Glassy seas and, for these two landlubbers, who took Dramamine prior to the trip, it was lovely.
It was a bit foggy out on the ocean but we did see these dolphins jumping in the wake of the ferry.

Then Catalina came into view,
with its iconic Casino on the east,
we landed and wheeled our bags to our hotel, right on the bay with an ‘ocean view’ - not from our room, natch, but from the patio where we ate breakfast. Here I am, eating a delicious scone.
You know, Avalon hadn’t changed since I was here in 1970. It’s still a tourist town with lots of restaurants and hotels and souvenir shops. Since there was a cruise ship in port, and several ferries from the mainland had just landed, the town was bustling. Lots of people wandering around, eating, drinking and visiting the shoppes. Interestingly, one of the guys on our ferry, got off the boat and asked, ‘Now, what do we do here?’ (He’s just spent $140 for the ferry tickets for himself and his wife and he wants to know what to do?)

Our tickets came via a ‘deal’ I found online when I got to the ferry website. Room and transportation for one low fee. Actually, it was a good deal and saved us a bundle. We checked in, walked outside and searched for a quick bite to eat before our tour. When Deb and I worked on the island, we didn’t get to know the island very well. We knew White’s Landing camp and that was about that. We were plenty busy and trips into and out of town were rare. Tours of the island were nonexistent back then. Today there are several tours available and we signed up for 3-hour tour into the island though the Catalina Conservancy which is the non-profit which manages/owns 88% of the island.

The town of Avalon has around 4000 residents but the town can swell to 22,000 on a beautiful sunny day weekend in the Summer. Today, there were far fewer.
After we checked into our hotel, we strolled around looking for lunch and found food - in every direction, in every variety. Hamburgs over to the left, burritos to the left, Italian in front, ice cream on every corner and fish everywhere you look. Unfortunately, I do not like anything that swims in water to eat and we gave up on meat a long time ago. But still find ourselves drooling when we walk through campgrounds in the evening and others are grilling meat and we have only Morningstar Farms back in our RV. However, today we are on vacation, the rules can be bent and we can satisfy our powerful hankering for hamburgers. We followed the swirling aroma of grilled beef from a nearby restaurant, ordered and found a seat at the patio. Delicious. Sin today and repent tomorrow.

In the movie ‘Mozart’ Emperor Joseph told Mozart that he had too many notes in his ‘Marriage of Figaro’. Dumbfounded, Mozart told him that there were just as many notes as were required. To this the Emperor replied that there were just so many notes that the ear could hear in an evening.

I have been told that I have too many words. So, here I’ll give all of us a break off and tell the rest of our day in another blog.

And, now it’s off to our tour with the Catalina Conservancy

Santa Catalina, CA #2 - Foxes, Bison and Coves

Off to the Catalina Conservancy where we met Andrew, the two others on our tour, jumped into our Jeep and were off. This is a desert island and Catalina, along with the rest of California, is well into the 3rd year of a drought. Vegetation is sparse, and a fire roared through here in 2007 killing off lots of vegetation. Andrew,who has lived on the island for around 6 or 7 years, was filled with stories about the island. His first story was about the fire which was started by Gary Dennis Hunt who used a prohibited blowtorch while working on a radio antenna 10 miles outside of town. He dropped the blowtorch, it quickly caught the surrounding dry brush on fire and, with winds at 45 mph, the fire quickly spread towards Avalon.

100 firefighters and 200 new recruits battled the fire while the residents crammed into anything that floated and tried to get out of town. The ferry company, The Island Express, ran extra boats between the island and the mainland to evacuate the residents. Then, the marine layer moved in, the wind shifted and the town was saved. In the end, only one home and several businesses were lost. But the fire burned through 4750 acres and brush in that area was devastated though it is now growing back. Gary Dennis Hunt was finally caught, sentenced to 5 years or probation and 19 months in prison. He was also ordered to pay $16.9 million in damages.

A very close call for Avalon with a much better outcome than the 1915 fire which burned the whole town except 2 buildings: a church and the home of the town mayor which others in the town kept watered as they watched their own homes burn. They loved their mayor.

Andrew had all sorts of history about the island. He related the various owners of Catalina Island but spent most of the time telling us stories about William Wrigley, Jr. who bought the island, sight unseen, in 1919 for 2,000,000. He invested much of his own personal wealth in the island and even brought the Cubs over to Catalina for spring training until the 1950’s. He also built the Casino which we plan to tour tomorrow. Here’s a tile section from the beautiful intricate tile wall lining the walkway to the Casino.
Back to a bit of personal history: in the camp we had platform tents which held 8 campers or 4 counselors. However, to avoid the summer heat which tents can magnify, most of us took our beds outside and slept next to the tent. It was not unusual to wake up and find a large bison wandering through the campground or a wild pig snorting near the tents. These are two of the wild animals that were not endemic to the island but were brought here. The story that I heard was that they were filming Westerns here and needed bison and horses so brought in hay to feed them. Inside the hay were some rattlesnakes and wild pigs were brought over to rid the island of the rattlesnakes.

I asked Andrew if these stories were true or just cute campfire tales. Nope, he said, all true. Lots of Western films were made over here including Zane Grey’s The Vanishing American which required bison in the scenes. Unfortunately, the bison’s great chance at a Grauman’s Theater hoof print was shattered when they cut all of their scenes out of the film. But, take them back to the mainland? Nah, let’s just leave them here. They’ll be a great tourist attraction.

Did you know that buffalo and bison are not the same animal? We actually have no buffalo in America, we have only bison. Buffalo roam in Africa and Asia. We saw a few bison off in the distance along our trip. Those 3 brown lumps masquerading as large rocks are the only bison that we saw. I actually came much closer when I was in camp and awoke during the night only to see one next to our beds. What does one do then? Luckily he wandered off on his own before I had developed a plan. Lucky him.
In the 1940’s the US Coast Guard cancelled the regularly scheduled passenger service to the island, it was declared a federal military zone and quonset huts were built, training began and bunkers were built to protect the island. Wrigley rented the island to the US for $1.00 a year for the duration of the war. Andrew said he is working on a WWII tour which should start this summer. I’d love to go back to Catalina to see this tour.

There are very few cars on the island (there’s nowhere to go and no stop lights either) and the most common type of transportation, after feet, is in a golf cart. You can even rent one to explore Avalon. However, there is a gate on the road from Avalon into the island and, without a pass, you cannot get through it. With Andrew we passed through the gate into the interior of the island which is really a series of canyons with steep and sparsely vegetated hills. The predominant color during the current drought is of the muted grays and browns of the desert. We had a clear day for our island tour which neither yesterday nor tomorrow was. We were lucky in our choice.

Gary and I wondered where the water for the island originated and how waste was disposed. When I was a counselor at White’s Landing, I certainly never asked about these questions. We had running hot and cold water in our showers, laundry and camp kitchen. We had flush toilets and electricity. Never once did I wonder how all this occurred in a desert island, hidden away in a cove miles from Avalon. Now, we have a much better idea. Water is being captured behind some reservoirs on one side of the island, pumped over the mountain spine where it is treated in a covered pool

and then pumped down into Avalon. There is a desalination plant on the island and an electric generation plant. Waste? I’m still not sure since Andrew wasn’t clear in his explanation. He told us it was probably barged off. Hmmm. I’m wondering if he didn’t want to tell us the truth which I found with a little research online.

Here I learned that the beach at Avalon used to be one of the most polluted beaches in Los Angeles County due to its century old sewage system. In 2012, Avalon was given some ultimatums and has been working diligently on meeting these deadlines by 2016. Interestingly, the water in the harbor is extremely clear but this must be deceiving.

We wound our way up the hills towards the ridge line. Along the road were some huge sycamores lining the road. Seems that Mr. Wrigley used to take his visitors to the top of the hill (above the fence on the right middle of the picture). They would drink a bit on the way and then careen down in their horse drawn wagons. With the steep drop-offs along the road, Mrs. Wrigley worried about accidents and planted the trees along the side. If he couldn’t keep on the road, at least the horses could keep inside the trees.
All questions aside, here we saw some of the most beautiful sights, back towards Avalon perched on a hill, looking along the cliffs that line the island, down into the coves which dot the coast and across the mountainous land.


Sweeping views of the coastline were everywhere. There is actually an airport in the middle of the island called the Island in the Sky.
Wrigley leveled two mountains, filling in with the rocks he blasted off the tops. It is difficult to land here with the wind shears but this is a common way to get to the island. I’d like to say that we met Harrison Ford as he landed to eat a bison burger at the cafe here but that story belongs to Andrew.
But one of my goals was to see White’s Landing where the camp was. And, sure enough, Andrew stopped there for a few minutes for me. There it was, down a long winding dirt road to the cove. You can barely see the buildings at the bottom of the canyon. It is still used as a camp though not for just Girl Scouts now. It was probably an expensive camp to keep. You can see how isolated we were.
We also saw an elusive fox, which Andrew said was one of the few endemic animals on the island. (Gary and I want to know how any animal can be endemic on an island. But we didn’t think of this question until we got back to our RV. Now I’ve looked it up: possibly they came over the channel on some floating debris or were brought here by the original inhabitants, the Indians) Each of the 8 Channel Islands has its own fox genus. Because the island is small and has only limited food, the fox grow small out here. Andrew told us that they like agave berries and will pick them off the cactus, roll around them a bit to crush them and come back a few days later, when the berry has fermented. He said that the fox sometimes lurch around after this. Wonder why?
That’s Sheep Chute Road ahead. Hang onto your hats, we’re going down.
Really enjoyed the tour and, if you ever get to Catalina, I’d recommend taking a tour with the Conservancy. After our tour, which actually lasted 3 1/2 hours, we walked the streets, which were now almost vacant because the cruise ship had left the harbor. Some stores were closed already and we decided that we’d better get dinner in since other shops and restaurants might close.

Afterwards we walked out to the Casino and saw it lit up for the night.
and marveled at the stunning mosaics around the outside foyer.
We then wandered over to the nearby beach, Descanso Beach then back to our hotel.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

San Diego, CA - Tide Pools, Beaches and Family

I actually wrote this blog after our trip to Catalina and I’m all written out now. So, here is a short picture history of what we did last Wednesday, prior to our trip to Catalina.

We walked along Ocean Beach beachand streets with a $350,000 one bedroom, one bath home for sale 2 blocks from the beach,
and marina.


Is this an editorial comment or a boat name?

We then decided that since we were already out, and the tide was low, to check out the tide pools on Point Loma and needed something to eat before we went. We could buy some fiber or protein bars but - hey, why not a $5.00 foot long? Sounds much better, more nutritious and costs just a bit more than 3 bars. As we were walking back to our car we found Hungry Lu’s with $5.29 foot longs and chairs and a table outside to eat. Perfect.
At Point Loma, we wound down the road to the tide pools, found a parking spot and started walking along the cliffs and coastline. We discovered that we had come just a bit too late since the tide was already coming in. But we found a crab hiding in the rocks with his beady eye on me,
some sea urchins under some shallow water,
people taking selfies.
The coastline was beautiful.


The National Monument was filled with people on this glorious sunny warm day.
And the views, as usual, were scrumptious.
On the way back we stopped to pay our respects to all those who have died for our freedoms at Rosecrans National Cemetery.
This guy fought in both WWI and WWII and died when I was a junion in high school Thank you, Joseph.
Dinner in Coronado in the evening with Fred, Marilyn, Tish, Marilyn’s daughter and a glorious view across the bay to San Diego.
The view was great, the company was priceless, the meal was not. Oh, well.

Then home.

Ah, only 334 words. Probably my shortest blog. Time for bed.