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Celebrating the Wrigley Centennial on Catalina Island

By Ann Shepphird

Arriving at Avalon Harbor from the Southern California mainland on the Catalina Express, the Catalina Casino is easy to spot. The iconic art deco building was constructed in 1929 by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., who first invested in Catalina in 1919. His legacy continues through the Catalina Island Company, which owns and operates a number of hotels, restaurants and event venues on the island.

That legacy is being commemorated with a series of Wrigley Centennial celebrations that include bringing back some of the early dining and cocktail experiences, launching a new tour and an exhibition at the Catalina Island Museum and, most dramatically, completing an extensive renovation of the historic Atwater Hotel.

Wrigley’s presence can still be felt at sites throughout the island, from the top of Mt. Ada, where his former home is now a four-star inn, to the Catalina Country Club, which was used as the clubhouse for his beloved Chicago Cubs during their spring training years on the island from 1921-1951 and which still houses a large collection of memorabilia. Both are available for group events and, in honor of the centennial, are featuring “flashback favorites” such as French 75 cocktails and Poor Man’s Rice Pudding.

The Mt Ada hotel and club are also part of the new two-hour “Wrigley’s Catalina” tour, where fun tidbits include the fact that Wrigley would watch the Cubs training from his house using binoculars and, if he didn’t think they were working hard enough, would call down to have them run up the hill to Mt Ada. Another tour highlighting the rich history of the island is “Twilight at the Casino,” which takes groups through the Catalina Casino’s Avalon Theater, where the pipe organ from 1929 is still operational, and up to the top-floor ballroom, where dancers would (and still do) swing to the music of the big bands. Fun fact: The casino never had gambling—the name comes from the Italian word for “gathering place.”

Memorabilia from Wrigley’s first year on the island can be found at the Catalina Island Museum’s “Wrigley’s Catalina: A Centennial Celebration Exhibition,” which runs through Jan. 19, 2020. The museum also offers a variety of spaces—or a total buyout—for group events.

But the biggest tribute to the Wrigley family can perhaps be found in the renovation of the Hotel Atwater, which originally opened in 1920 and was named after Helen Atwater Wrigley, the wife of William Wrigley’s son Philip Knight (P.K.) Wrigley, who took over the company following the death of his father in 1932. Scheduled for completion in August, the new Hotel Atwater will feature 95 guest rooms, meeting and event space, and a new restaurant called PKW Eatery + Bar, offering an appropriate tribute to Philip as well.