Many years ago, when we first began visiting Catalina Island, we couldn’t find a hotel that was contemporary and suited our needs, as we might today. Eventually, we began renting a condominium. The condo gave us the good-sized space and amenities of a home at the price of a smaller hotel room.
And then, we discovered the condominium we now own. We fell in love with the wonderful unobstructed view over the entire city of Avalon, across to the mountains, to the Catalina Casino, with the sea beyond.
But one question always bothered us: Why couldn’t we find a first-class resort hotel in this wonderful resort years ago? The answer, we discovered, is that there once was a very famous first-class resort hotel, but it was torn down.
The hotel, the “St. Catherine,” was named after the Patron Saint of Catalina Island. In its day, it was internationally known. Movie stars, athletes, and other famous and important people flocked to the hotel. It was written about, photographed and made newspaper headlines.
The “St. Catherine Hotel” had its own private beach, a very short walk from the world famous Catalina Casino. It had a first class dining room that could seat 1200 people. (We have an old menu in our collection).
The hotel opened on June 28, 1918, on the former estate of the Banning family, some of the original developers of Catalina Island. When William Wrigley Jr. purchased the Island in 1919, the hotel came along with the purchase.
Unfortunately, with the beginning of World War II, cross-channel boat traffic to the Island was stopped by the Defense Department. The Catalina Island tourist economy came to a halt. The Merchant Marines took over the hotel. After the war ended, there was an attempt to return the hotel to civilian use, but there was much wear and tear. The hotel was very old-fashioned. Many rooms did not have private baths. In 1966, it was decided to tear down the “St. Catherine” and, to this day, it has never been replaced. Suddenly, a world famous hotel simply disappeared.
Today, you can still see the ruins of the old foundation on the hillside overlooking the old hotel’s beach, which has been nicely developed into a private resort beach. It is called the Descanso Beach Club and, to enjoy certain of its facilities, requires a small fee.
All the amenities of a hotel are there – except the hotel itself. We have found the restrooms and changing rooms to be very clean and up-to-date. There are showers to wash off the sand. There are no lifeguards watching the beach.
We have enjoyed the very nice beachside bar. There is reasonable food service, an ice cream shop and a few resort shops. A stylish new building is available to host private events.
We have also enjoyed renting kayaks and exploring the Island coast, as well as swimming, snorkeling and relaxing on the beach. We have not yet tried the private cabanas available for rent nor have we tried the Massages by the Sea.
The Descanso Beach Club is about a 15-minute walk from our condo on flat ground– or you can hire a cab for a few dollars. A free shuttle bus carried people from Crescent Street to the Descanso Beach Club, the last time we visited.
So, with the Descanso Beach Club, you have available the facilities of a resort hotel by the sea. Then, at the end of the day, you can return to our Bahia Vista condominium, where you will have a totally unobstructed view from the tallest building in Avalon. From our patio, you can watch the sun set behind the western hills, look over the village, across the bay, and, on a clear day, see the distant San Gabriel Mountains on the mainland (snow-capped in the Winter) ….just as we do as often as we can.