The Legendary Casino Building | Catalina Island’s Most Famous Building
One of the first things that you’ll notice upon arriving in Avalon is the Casino Building, Catalina Island’s most recognizable landmark. The round, white building rises the equivalent of 12 stories, and is surrounded by the sea on three sides. Built in 1929, the Casino – which is actually not a gambling hall but “place of entertainment” – played host to dozens of big bands through the 1930s and 1940s. Guests danced the night away to the music of Glenn Miller, Harry James, and many others over the years.
The Casino Building is a stunning example of original Art Deco architecture. It has been well maintained over the years and has also undergone much restoration, both inside and out.
A Grand Opening
The Casino Building officially opened on Wednesday, May 29, 1929. The City of Avalon proclaimed a legal holiday and requested that all businesses close. Festivities included a parade along Crescent Avenue, a flag-raising ceremony, live music, escorted tours of the building, ceremonial presentations, a stage show, and other events.
The Avalon Theatre
Located on the main level of the Casino Building, the Avalon Theatre was the first theatre designed for sound movies before its construction. Its circular dome is unbroken by pillars or balconies. The screen measures 18 feet high by 36 feet wide and accommodates Cinemascope motion pictures.
The acoustics in the theatre are so good that you can hear normal conversation from the front to the back of the theatre. Though the projection booth still houses originally installed equipment, it also contains the latest screen, projection, and sound systems available. The theatre ceiling is of hard acoustical material, covered with silver leaf, and decorated with star designs and star shaped openings through which recessed lights twinkle.
The Avalon Theatre is also home to a Page Organ, one of only four crafted by the Page Company in Lima, Ohio.
The murals in the Avalon Theatre and on the exterior of the building were designed by John Gabriel Beckman, a well-known artist who had worked on a number of theatres, including Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
Nine panels encircle the inside walls of the theatre loggia and are stylized underwater scenes of marine life. Originally designed to be executed in Catalina tile, the murals had to painted directly onto the concrete surface in order to be ready for the Casino Building’s grand opening.
The Casino Ballroom
The Casino Ballroom is unlike any other in the world. It is 180 feet in diameter, with no interior columns, and is the largest ballroom of this type in existence. The dance floor is laid in strips of maple, white oak, and rosewood on a layer of felt and acoustical paper, over a subfloor of polished pine floating on cork. (People in the theatre below would never even know that there were hundreds of people dancing in the ballroom above them!)
The largest number of dancers ever in the Casino was 6,200 people dancing to the music of Kay Kyser, on May 8, 1940. Virtually every big band of that era played in the Casino Ballroom. Live broadcasts were carried over CBS radio from 1934 into the 1950s.
Explore The Casino Building
Today, visitors can see the inside of the Casino Building on one of several daily walking tours. The Casino Ballroom is also available for private functions, and is a very popular spot for weddings and special events.
If you are planning to spend the night in Avalon, why not catch a movie in the beautiful Avalon Theatre? Movies show every evening, twice nightly on weekends.
The Art Gallery and Catalina Island Museum are also located in the Casino Building, on the lower level. From the Native American Indians who inhabited Catalina 7,000 years ago to the Hollywood legends who vacationed there in the 1950s, the Museum is a great place to immerse yourself in the island’s history. Open daily, the Museum boasts an outstanding collection of archaeological material excavated on the island, as well as historic photographs, displays, and Catalina pottery.