Only on Catalina


I have now answered 29,111 questions since March 10, 2014.

I have now answered 29,111 questions since March 10, 2014.

My unusual questions for the week:

“Do those of you who work on Catalina Island go back to the mainland every night and return early the next morning?”

“Where does the boat leave for California?”

“Are any of you who live here U.S. citizens?”

“Do you have flush toilets on the Island?”

“Where is the ocean and where is Avalon?”

In the good ol’ summertime on Catalina Island: now that summer is officially here, I thought it would be both nostalgic and educational to explain how summers were enjoyed from in ‘50s and ‘60s. Summer jobs for young people were limited only by their imagination. Some carried suit cases in their little red wagons, or rickshaws (I had one) to the hotels and homes in Avalon, when the passengers disembarked from the boats and seaplanes.  I would normally charge 25cents/bag, but others would do it “comp” and simply accepted tips (they tended to do a lot better this way).  For the adventurous and those wanting to bring in the big bucks (sometimes I made $15/day), diving for coins when the S. S. Catalina and the Blanche W boats came in was the choice.  Generally the less skilled swimmers would dive in the shallower waters on the South/East side of the Steamer Pier (approximately where the Blue Water Avalon, is now located, 306 Crescent), for the Blanche.  The better swimmers would dive on the North/West side and I did from the age of 6-13 (1953-60).  As the ship would come within view of the Avalon, Miss Catalina speedboats would go out to meet them with their sirens blazing.  They were generally driven by Doug Bombard or Rudy Piltch.  When I felt in the mood, I would water ski around the steamer, which was exciting, but stupid!  With the wake the Big White Steamer would make the time it would take to be picked up if/when I fell off the skis, I was really taking a major risk of being hurt or worse.  When diving for coins, we would normally wait for the Catalina to arrive at noon and then dive off the seawall and start yelling, “Throw a coin!  Let’s see some silver!”  It normally took an hour for all of the passengers to leave the ship as some stayed behind simply to watch us perform.  This performance was repeated when the ship would leave around 4 pm.  We would start diving at 3. At the foot of the pier, “Duke” Fishman would lead hundreds of locals and tourists in this greeting ritual of the 2,000 passengers with “Hi, neighbor, what’s cookin? Bacon, wanna strip?” (definitely no PC in those days), along with Avalon and any other songs and questionable comments that he had added to his repertoire since he started doing this in the late 1930s.  There were “hawkers” who represented the different hotels. Carl Bailey, “Mr. Big” (6 feet 7 inches), would interview some of those coming off the ship who knew that their family was anxious to know if they had made the long voyage (2 1/2 hours) safely.  They were able to hear their loved ones voices over KBIG radio.

With all of this dive money, some of us would go to Mother Gray’s, 501 Crescent, where Joe Gray would make up a BIG hamburger for 25 cents, 10 cents more for cheese, a hot dog for 15 cents, and would place the main course on a large paper bag full of French fries which cost an additional 15 cents.  Money went a long way in those days!  College students found that they could take their dive money and stay a weekend at the Island Villa bungalows (location of the Tour Plaza and Miniature Golf Course) for $21 and still had enough money left to show off to their date with a nice dinner ($3) and dancing in the Casino Ballroom (25 cents).  Sometimes I didn’t want to stay on the beach, so I and my friends would throw a baloney sandwich together with chips and go to the Bird Park, which was free, up until the middle ‘60’s when the price soared to 25 cents, and visit the birds.  We all seemed to have our favorites and then would bike up the storm drain to the Wrigley Memorial to have our lunch. As the area was fenced off and the massive copper doors were locked, we would come in the side way from the East storm drain and then muscle our way up through the openings on the West side of the Memorial.  We would then go up to the top of the back of the wall (I was scared to death) and then we would sit in the arch way that overlooked the canyon and have our lunch.  When finished, we would then coast down the storm drain, generally trying to do so with the minimum use of the handle bars, and we are still alive to talk about it!

When family/guests came over to visit, which was frequent in those days when travel was only around $2.50 cents each way, we would have to forego our money making and cater to their whims. We would often take them on the world’s largest side-wheeler glass bottom boat, the Phoenix, generally finding Capt. Eddie Harrison at the wheel.  We would take the Island Tour in a canvas covered bus that would stop at the El Rancho Escondido Ranch where they raised award winning Arabian horses and would be enthralled by the cowboys putting some of them through their drill of maneuvering through obstacle courses and would end by having the best horse showing how it could cull out one particular young bison or calf.  The tack room was spectacular! Back in town we could get a pony cart from the stables and the pony would know the hour tour so all you had to do was sit back in your wicker basket and put the horse in automatic and let it do its thing. For those who truly wanted a thrill, the Diving Bell, at the Casino Point (West of the stairs leading to the Dive Park) would more than fit the bill.  If you just wanted a good swim, but also liked to sun bathe at the same time, you could always go to the beach, where they had two floats off of both beaches on either side of the Pleasure Pier and one of the floats even had a high dive.  There was one float off of the Step Beach, just East of the Steamer Pier.  If we wanted to be a little more adventurous, we could go to the Bath House (where the volley ball courts are now just short of the Mole) and for 25 cents we could dive off of the high drive —and it was high.  You might want to jump on the trampolines (located behind the present Villa Portifino hotel and restaurant).

I would greatly appreciate feedback on what I write and what you want my column to address.  Email me at

Only on Catalina