Catalina Island
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November 25, 2017 - 8:51am

Articles by Jim Watson

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the first annual—and last annual—Catalina Channel Balloon Race.

The reasons why it was the “last annual” race will unfold before your eyes as you read this column.  But it suffices to say that it was another in a long list of valiant—but ultimately vain—efforts to bring business and positive media coverage to Catalina during the slow winter months.

Once upon a midnight dreary (actually it was about 11 p.m.), I was wrapping up a night’s work in the projection room of the historic Avalon Theatre where I work as a projectionist.

Back in the days when we still showed two movies a night, this job would often see me shutting down and closing up late in the evening or even in the wee hours of the morning.

NOTE: Jim Watson is the author of “Mysterious Island: Catalina.”

Just about every kid at one time or another has dreamed of stuffing a secret message into an empty bottle and tossing it into the sea for the winds to carry hither and yon.

Funny I should mention that, because just such an idea occurred to just such a kid one day back during the Fourth of July weekend of 1958.  That “kid” was our own Chuck Liddell of this very newspaper’s Time Capsule column.

Editor’s note:  This is the fourth in a series of articles on the history of smuggling on Catalina Island.

As we approach the end of yet another year, we also approach the end of our town’s centennial celebration.

It was in 1913 that the City of Avalon was officially incorporated in the County of Los Angeles.  This much you probably already knew or were able to calculate on your own.

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles on the history of smuggling on Catalina Island.

If you’ve ever traveled to other beach resorts around the world, you’ve perhaps noticed something different about Avalon.

Consider the layout of Avalon’s beachfront area:  First, you have the beach, then the town’s main street and finally you have the first row of buildings, such as hotels, restaurants and curio shops.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on the history of smuggling on Catalina.

From its earliest days under European and American rule, Santa Catalina Island has been a haven for smugglers of all shades.

The numerous secluded coves, caves, bays and canyons coupled with the Island’s proximity to the burgeoning population centers of Southern California have proven an ideal combination for those of a trade whose age rivals that of any other profession on earth.

From time to time we see our Island home in the news in a less-than-flattering light (through no fault of our own) in the form of occasional drug smugglers caught transporting their wares in nearby waters.

Such modern-day discoveries by the U.S. Coast Guard or L.A. County Sheriff’s Department of drug smuggling usually involve small panga-type launches or other such watercraft that transfer the illicit goods to another boat for what the smugglers hope will be a Customs-free entry into the United States.

With this issue, we have the strange convergence of three events:  Halloween, Day of the Dead and the Catalina Air Show.

So what better Mysterious Island column to present to you this week, Dear Reader, than the story of a haunted airliner, captained by a long-time Catalina seaplane pilot?

Robert Hanley was one of Catalina’s more colorful historical characters.  He flew seaplanes here for a period of nearly 20 years, at one point even owning his own airline, Catalina Channel Airline.

From our “Catalina History That Never Was” Department comes a little-known and nearly unthinkable (these days) episode in Island lore.

As you may have surmised, this particular thread follows projects and developments throughout Catalina’s history that would have markedly changed the face of the Island, but never came to be.

We return you once again to the Mysteries of the Deep and another little gem I discovered while perusing vintage copies of the Catalina Islander.  This one comes from the Jan. 14, 1925, edition of this very paper and involves a remarkable catch a fisherman made while surf fishing near Portuguese Bend in San Pedro.

“Strange Sea Freak Has Alligator Head, Body of Swordfish, Web Feet” says the headline of the short news article all the way back on page 9 of that issue.