Sunday 9 December 2018

From aboard National Geographic Venture: Catalina Island: Swinging with Frankie from Avalon

#expeditioncruising .

From aboard National Geographic Venture
Itinerary: From Southern California to Baja: Sailing the Pacific Coast

Day 2: Catalina Island: Swinging with Frankie from Avalon

Frankie from Avalon, the maestro of swing dancing (RE)

“At 14 I discovered swing-dancing and I've been swinging ever since,” the self-assured 70-something gent tells us. He's clearly something of a hit with the ladies too and insists on dancing with every one, claiming he can teach them to swing dance in 20 seconds.

The famous casino at Avalon was constructed by chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. as part of a massive infrastructure upgrade after he took controlling interest in the island in 1919. In fact the whole island, in particular the main settlement of Avalon, is pretty much a legacy to this man.

Completed in 1929, the largest building on the island stands as tall as a 12-story block and contains an ornate, acoustically perfect movie theatre with a massive pipe organ, the largest circular hardwood dance floor in the world in its ballroom and is covered with murals by John Gabriel Beckman. Interestingly the structure also serves as a civil defence shelter and contains stores and provisions for two weeks.

The Casino as seen from across the harbor. (RE)

However you look at it, Santa Catalina Island (or just Catalina) is certainly one of the more unusual cruise ship ports. It has a casino where gambling is banned, a herd of bison left behind after a film was shot, almost no cars and was a secret training base in WWII. The main town, Avalon, sees 1 million visitors annually and has a Third Street but no First or Second Streets, the Post Office doesn’t deliver the mail and the local cabs deliver for Avalon’s pizzerias.

Rush hour in Avalon. Golf carts are the preferred mode of transport. (RE)

Catalina's connection with Hollywood glitterati is well-documented. The little town of just over 3000 residents is like its own time-warp movie set. It’s been the setting for over 200 movies and associated with names like Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan, Mickey Rooney, Clark Gable, Doris Day, Natalie Wood (who drowned in mysterious circumstances) and Phil Hartman (who was murdered by his wife), while top name musicians Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Harry James and Benny Goodman regularly played at the casino.

In fact one of our beach landings took place at Little Harbor where the MGM art department built an entire Tahitian village for the 1935 big budget production of 'Mutiny on the Bounty' and planted specially imported palm trees and tropical grass. It was somewhat surreal to wander the paths once walked by Clark Gable and Charles Laughton.

Cinema history: Palms planted for the 1935 epic, 'Mutiny on the Bounty' at Little Harbor (RE)

Little Harbor was also once home to the Pimu Tongva people for some 8000 years until the Spanish landed in 1542 and things went steadily downhill for them until only scattered genetic traces now exist.

Our journey continues south to Baja California and Mexico.

For more information on Lindblad – National Geographic journeys, see

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