Catalina, one of California’s Channel Islands, lies southwest of Los Angeles. It’s known for its wildlife, dive sites and Mt. Orizaba, its highest peak. The resort town of Two Harbors lies to the north. To the south, in the city of Avalon, palm trees and cabanas line Descanso Beach. Avalon’s circular, art deco Catalina Casino is a cultural center with a movie theater, ballroom and museum.
During World War II, the island was closed to tourists and used for military training facilities. Catalina’s steamships were expropriated for use as troop transports and a number of military camps were established. The U.S. Maritime Service set up a training facility in Avalon, the Coast Guard had training at Two Harbors, the Army Signal Corps maintained a radar station in the interior, the Office of Strategic Services did training at Toyon Bay, and the Navy did underwater demolition training at Emerald Bay.
Catalina was originally inhabited and used by many different Southern California Tribes, including the Tongva, who called the island Pimuu’nga or Pimu and referred to themselves as Pimugnans or Pimuvit. The first Europeans to arrive on Catalina claimed it for the Spanish Empire. Over the years, territorial claims to the island transferred it to Mexico and then to the United States. During this time, the island was sporadically used for smuggling, otter hunting, and gold digging, before successfully being developed into a tourist destination by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. beginning in the 1920s. Since the 1970s, most of the island has been administered by the Catalina Island Conservancy.
The Catalina Island interior is owned and maintained by the Catalina Island Conservancy.
In 1972, the Brown Berets, a group of Latino activists, Chicanos and Mexican residents took the Santa Catalina Island, invoking the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which has no mention of the islands. On February 15, 1975, Philip Wrigley deeded 42,135 acres (17,051 hectares) of the island from the Santa Catalina Island Company to the Catalina Island Conservancy that he had helped to establish in 1972. This gave the Conservancy control of nearly 90 percent of the island.The balance of the Santa Catalina Island Company that was not deeded to the Conservancy maintains control of much of its resort properties and operations on the island.
In May 2007, Catalina experienced the Island Fire, a large wildfire. Largely due to the assistance of 200 Los Angeles County fire fighters transported by U.S. Marine Corps helicopters and U.S Navy hovercraft, only a few structures were destroyed, though 4,750 acres (1,922 hectares) of wildland were burned.In May 2011, another wildfire started near the Isthmus Yacht Club and was fought by 120 firefighters transported by barge from Los Angeles. It was extinguished the next day after burning 117 acres.