Avalon Theatre

1 Casino Way,
Catalina Island, CA 90704

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Avalon Theater

A truly classic movie palace, situated in Avalon on Santa Catalina Island, just 22 miles off the coast from Los Angeles. The Avalon Theatre opened on May 29, 1929 with Douglas Fairbanks in “The Iron Mask”. It is located in the Casino Building, built by chewing gum magnet William Wrigley Jnr, and is located beneath the Casino Ballroom. The building was never intended for or used as a casino, but for dancing (which in the era of the ‘big bands’ attracted the likes of Benny Goodman – the King of Swing' to play here to 2,000 capacity dancers. The outer lobby of the building has eight ‘Atlantis’ inspired tiled mural panels, the work of John Gabriel Beckman, who decorated the entire Avalon Theatre in an Atmospheric style. There are painted murals on the side-walls depicting a noble savage hunting deer with a bow & arrow, as a few Franciscan monks arrive by galleon surrounded by stylized hillsides. The rear wall has painted murals of birds and monkeys.

Above the rounded proscenium arch is a re-creation of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, whilst on the asbestos safety curtain is painted “Flight of Fancy Westward”, depicting a primitive surfer boy riding the crest of a wave, superimposed on a background of the map of the island. The silver leaf ceiling is made to glow in shades of pink and violet by colored lights hidden behind a low wall surrounding the auditorium.

The Avalon Theatre is equipped with a Page 4 manual 16 rank theatre organ, built by the Page Organ Co. of Lima, Ohio. It is still in working order and is played regularly at film performances on weekends only. Films played daily every evening of the week and were a mix of first run and classic silent movies. The complex is still owned by the Wrigley family who keep the building well maintained.

The Avalon Theatre was closed on December 31, 2019 with Dwayne Johnson in “Jumanji:The Next Level”. The Santa Catalina Island Company citing “operating costs are too expensive and hinder their ‘good business strategy’. It will be maintained as a special events facility, occasional screenings of silent movies and for the Catalina Film Festival and will be available to hire. Tours of the Casino Building and the Avalon Theatre will be available. There was an online petition to reopen the building which gained over 5,000 signatures in 4 days.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 52 comments)

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on June 26, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Here is a 1929 interior photo from the LAPL:
http://jpg1.lapl.org/00081/00081783.jpg

spectrum
spectrum on November 1, 2009 at 8:14 am

A couple links:

Casino Ballroom: avalonball.com

Avalon Theater: View link

ERD
ERD on November 1, 2009 at 8:41 am

A unique and beautiful interior and exterior. I am glad the Avalon theatre is so well maintained.

gman99
gman99 on November 5, 2009 at 1:55 am

Hey, does anyone have any further info on the “Silent Movie Festival” mentioned above??

Have only been there once…but loved it. Especially since during the tour, we were privileged with a screening of a Buster Keaton short….definitely the true genius of the Silent Film era.

Tock11
Tock11 on July 16, 2011 at 1:58 pm

What is the definition of “atmospheric”?

Considering the ceiling—even minus clouds and a bordering Spanish village—could this be called an atmospheric?

CatalinaFF
CatalinaFF on January 17, 2012 at 11:23 am

Please come see this beautiful theatre at the annual Santa Catalina Film Festival held every May. This year there are a lot of amazing guests lined up to come.

Go To: www.CatalinaFF.org for more information.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 29, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Architect Sumner Spaulding’s middle name was Maurice. Walter Webber’s middle initial was I.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on December 1, 2019 at 6:46 pm

LA Times article about the 2019 closing.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-12-01/avalon-theater-catalina-island-hollywood

David_Schneider
David_Schneider on December 21, 2019 at 1:51 pm

The LA Times article mentioned by DavidZornig includes island resident’s feelings regarding their relationship to the Avalon, and says it was “the first cinema in the world designed for talkies”.

mikehume
mikehume on August 28, 2020 at 7:27 pm

I’ll go with the Avalon being one of the first theatres designed for talkies (which is what the Catalina Island Co. claim on their website), but it’s absolutely not “the first in the world” as quoted, without source, in the L.A. Times article.

One doesn’t need to look too far in order to find other theatres which opened before the Avalon and were built for the talkies. For instance the Observatory Park Theatre in San Diego was promoted by Fox West Coast as “the first San Diego playhouse to be specifically designed and constructed, from the ground up, for the exhibiting of sound, synchronized, and talking pictures” (San Diego Union, 17th January 1929 – same day the theatre opened to the public).

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