A Visit to Old Los Angeles and Environs

27. Catalina (Part 2).


Brent C. Dickerson

Copyright © Brent C. Dickerson

Catalina Shoreline, Seal Rocks to Descanso Canyon.

• I awoke just as the day was breaking. Outside, all was still but for the regular splashing of the waves on the shore, and the creaking and rattling sounds from the boats as they tossed, and the squeals of the ropes as they pulled at the moorings. Inside, Charley was still sawing away; even young Frederick Johan was still asleep. The window of our room overlooked the bay. I sat gazing at the scene as the misty black sky began to be touched by red and gold.

• Gradually, the red paled to a diminishing apricot, and the gold to lightening shades of yellow. Not far away, I could hear a restaurant's workers beginning to prepare the breakfast tables. A pair of fishermen with their gear crossed the street, joking to each other, then rowed out to their boat. As the day grew light enough to start casting shadows, and young Frederick Johan awoke and joined me at the window, the streets began to show some life. Though no doubt just like at home, dear, "No galloping in town!", a rider took advantage of the early hour and went galloping past; I saw horse and rider again in a few minutes on the far side of the bay as their road took them around the point and out of sight. By now, the fishermen had weighed anchor and were headed out into the open water.

• I was ill. I had felt odd enough as the day wore on when we visited San Pedro; and young FJ was right on the money with his diagnosis of "evidences of illness or degeneration" yesterday morning. I decided to spend the day convalescing at the hotel while the "folk" went tossing about along the shoreline in a coach-and-four which Papa had hired at the stables. I invested FJ with the responsibility not only of reporting for your eyes the events of the outing, but also of putting together an appropriate set of views of their route—while meantime I varied my time between dozing in my room and dozing on the veranda of the hotel. Herewith is his report: It is desirable [wrote he] to begin the survey of the coastline with the southern tip of the island, Seal Rocks, even though we could not go that far ourselves. While the postcard view shows the seals—that is, Sea Lions—sporting in the water, in actuality they are more likely to be found sunning themselves on the beach and on the rocks, sometimes in very uncomfortable-looking positions!

• Here they are in their characteristic "out of the water" pose.

• Papa downed his breakfast hastily that morning and left us at the table while he picked up the coach-and-four for our little excursion. Papa was of course practically born on a horse; and his experience with uncle old Frederick Johan at the freightage service in Missouri made him a master of driving a team. He had a proud look when he returned with the coach to set us on our way; I've never seen him look prouder than when he mounted the driver's seat, me by his side riding shotgun, and the rest behind us "inside," and we trotted off, reins firmly in his hands, whip within easy reach. Minnie insisted on sitting at the landward window, though whether from a dislike of the ocean or to be seen by companionable men in town one must judge for one's self. Charley was motivated to sit at the seaward window "to be on the lookout for young bathing beauties in need of assistance," as he put it. Mother took the occasion to remind the two of them that Papa's whip could be used on more than horses. Anna sat at the middle with Mother and the baby—the baby continuing his remarkably placid demeanor from the previous day—and this all was a good enough arrangement until the cool of the morning gave way to the warmth of the day, and it was decided that things would be less tight on the passenger bench if Charley and I swapped places. As we took the same road (along the shoreline) coming and going, we passed each point (but for the end-point) twice; but for our present purposes, we'll start from the far end, and work our way back. Having avoided a few rocks and boulders which had fallen onto the road from above—and you must understand that, all along, we generally had a cut-into mountainside rising on one side of the road and a drop-off falling to the beach or indeed the water on the other side—Charley, Papa, and I had to shove two inconveniently-sited boulders out of our way over the course of the route—we arrived at our lunching-spot, Pebbly Beach, several coves down the coast from Avalon, where we had the fine spot to ourselves...if you except three sea lions at one end, and a similarly picnicking family at the other. While the "folk" were conducting a very leisurely luncheon (which had been packed for us by the hotel restaurant), I quickly downed my share and went exploring along the beach and among the rocks, where I was joined by my counterpart in the other family, on a similar mission. This would be Oscar; and we poked around looking at shells and driftwood. Our wanderings eventually brought us near my "folk," which prompted me to introduce my rather shy friend. "Ah," said Anna, "you've found someone to play with!" "Play with?", I protested. Papa smiled and said, "Of course, young man—slip of the tongue—Anna meant to say that you've found a pardner to throw in with," and he winked at Anna. Charley meantime had given Oscar the twice-over, scrutinized Oscar's distant family at the other end of the beach, and said to Papa, "Haven't we met these people?" —And it turned out to be the banker from Tucson's family that Papa, Charley, and Ulf had met when they attempted to conquer Mt. Wilson the other day, and whom we had indeed seen earlier posing in front of the Argyle Hotel in Los Angeles.

• Papa and Mother thought it would be pleasant to invite our parallel travelers to join us for dinner at the Metropole, and so sent me as emissary with Oscar to the other end of the beach where I must say I found a somewhat cool reception from the banker—that is, until he discovered that we were staying at the fine Metropole (come to find out, he and his family were lodging in the "tent villa" in one precinct of town), when his manner, and that of his family, warmed abruptly. Having set up this event for the evening, we commenced our return to Avalon's immediate area.

• The cove "just around the corner" south from Avalon Bay is Lover's Cove. There's a funicular coming down to the beach there the counter-car of which arises on the other side of the ridge next to the Avalon amphitheater.

• Papa stopped the carriage so that Oscar and I could examine this terminus of the funicular (Oscar had shown an interest in joining our party going back to Avalon). Anna found a friendly dog sitting patiently at the gate, no doubt anticipating the return of his master from over the hill. Charley found a slice of chicken in the picnic basket to give him; "Lone dogs make me think of the Odyssey," he said, spending the next few minutes telling us why.

• As Charley told his story, we recommenced our return to Avalon, which was just around the bend. Our reconnoitering of the shoreline would continue north through Avalon along the arc of the front street, past the Metropole, to Sugar Loaf and the cove beyond. In the picture below, taken from Lover's Cove, one can see the north half of Avalon, the Hotel Metropole being the building the farthest left to be seen (the nearer southern half of the town is hidden). Just like back in downtown Los Angeles, the cardinal directions are to be understood in their local usage—everything is at an angle in Avalon as it is in Los Angeles.

• Certainly, we had to send Minnie and Anna out on the rocks for a picture. Mother declined to join them, stating that the family would have to have one woman left if they were washed away to Japan.

• Here, from the other direction, is the Lover's Cove/south end of Avalon portion of our route. In this picture, the Metropole is the building at the farthest right. The funicular goes over the hill nearest us jutting broadly into the bay. In the picture, one can just make out the line of the roads cut into the hills.

• Here is a closer view of the southwest corner of Avalon Bay. In the clump of trees to the right is where "Avalon Bowl," alias the amphitheater, is located. The cone-roofed white building prominent on the hillside is called both "Holly Hill House" and "Lookout Cot" (I don't know why just about everything has two names here). They say a man built it in anticipation of his marriage—and then meantime his fiancee married someone else! The house in front of the clump of trees is called, I think, "Sunrise House" because there's a decoration with a rising sun at the peak of the front.

• Back to a perspective from where we actually were at this point, here's how the front street ("Crescent") of Avalon looks as you enter town from the south. The tent community is to our left, off the front street. The gables one sees at the center of this view are on the south side of the Metropole; at this very moment, Ulf was lounging dreamily in his window at the northeast corner of the hotel [young Frederick Johan has erred here; during the middle of the day, I was "lounging dreamily" on the front veranda of the hotel, conversing now and then with the occupant of a neighboring chair, a pleasant old lady who had just one leg—or, rather, she had just one leg attached; she might have had the other one in a box somewhere. She said the same Union cannonball took off both her leg and her husband, and that she missed her husband at first, but later she missed her leg more. I saw the "folk" go past, and noticed that they had either acquired a heretofore unknown family member, or taken up kidnapping]. Our route lay straight down this street, then forward along the waterfront through the north part of town, then as far as we could go round the bay towards Sugar Loaf.

• We passed the dance pavilion on the front street, just steps from the beach.

• The front of town is a mix of hotels, stores, curio shops, restaurants—all sorts of things. As Crescent curves, of course, the Hotel Metropole lay straight ahead of us. As when we departed, her being in the window of the coach attracted insufficient attention, on approaching town Minnie had climbed up onto the driver's seat with Papa "to improve the view," as she put it. We dodged another rig coming our way.

• But pedestrians were generally in no hurry to get out of our way! The horses were fortunately very familiar with conditions on the streets of Avalon, and not much in sympathy with Papa's philosophy of driving, which was, to use his expression, "to scatter the chickens."

• The chickens remaining fairly well unscattered, we had time to observe the scenery. The Cabrillo had arrived from the mainland while we were at Pebbly Beach; and now her sister ship, the Hermosa, was coming in. Meantime, as Independence Day was fast approaching, decorations had started going up on the streets. The little structures on the right of this view are not trolley stops, whatever they might look like. They're benches with a little roof, the like of which are scattered along the waterfront. They call them "spooners," as they look like what you put dessert-spoons in on the table; but Charley said he'd guess that on pleasant evenings a good amount of "spooning" went on there. Mother cautioned Charley not to give Minnie ideas; Charley said he suspected that Minnie was way ahead of the both of them on this one.

• The steamer pier is right at the middle of the crescent. We stopped there for a few minutes to go out on the pier and look back at the south half of the waterfront. Most of the boats up on the beach are rowboats with glass bottoms for viewing underwater.

• The little glass-bottomed rowboats, though, are old-fashioned. When the steamers are out of the way, these large glass-bottomed side-wheelers tie up at the pier—much more stable than the little rowboats.

• As we were right next to the Metropole—right across the street from the foot of the pier—Mother pleaded fatigue on behalf of the baby; and the two of them returned to the hotel.

• The north part of town. Almost all of the buildings in town on the far side of the pier in this view—including the Hotel Metropole—burned in Avalon's great fire of November, 1915.

• The stretch of the bay's crescent between town and Sugar Loaf. The mainland can be seen in the distance at the right.

• Mother and the baby now having left, the remainder of our party boarded the coach and we continued on our journey. As we were passing the Metropole, I glanced back at the south end of town.

• The front of the north end of town is a solid line of hotels, then giving way to private homes. These buildings on the north end of town face the rising sun. Naturally, Sunrise House does not face the rising sun.

• Here is the stretch between the Metropole (at extreme left) and where the town starts getting hilly (at right).

• At—and over!—the water-line is the bath-house. The road divides at this point, half forking up the slope, half (carved out of the hillside) following the rocky beach towards Sugar Loaf. This latter is what we took.

• Once away from the beachfront hotels, one quickly finds that the seagulls outnumber the humans to a considerable degree. Anna said that this was the part of the waterfront where she'd be found over the next few days; and I said it was where I'd come to study the waterfront animals. Minnie declared her preference for the waterfront animals on the beach at the center of town—and Charley said he found it hard to disagree.

• The road narrowed to a footpath, and Papa stopped the horses, which were already showing some hesitation, and said we'd be hotfooting it the rest of the way. "I should prefer to sit here in the shade," said Minnie, remaining on the driver's bench; "my delicate complexion, don't you know." Papa set the coach and told Minnie to make sure that she and her delicate complexion didn't scare the horses while the rest of us went on. The sun glinting off the light gray rocks made the way bright and glaring.

• The trail comes down to sea-level as one nears Sugar Loaf; the last bit of the way, one hops from boulder to boulder to keep one's feet dry, as at high tide, the water washes over the path. There's a ladder up to the top of Sugar Loaf, and Papa declared it to be the "ricketiest construction west of the Mississippi." This made it look all the more interesting to Oscar and me, so we climbed right up, followed a moment later by Papa and then Charley, while Anna stayed at the bottom. Some islander boys lingered about, ready to make some spare change by escorting the faint-hearted up to the top.

• After we had admired the view in all directions for a while, I looked down and saw Anna trying to get our attention above the roar of the waves, and then pointing excitedly in the direction of the coach. We looked over, and what should we see, halfway across the bay in a line between the coach and Sugar Loaf but Minnie approaching in a rowboat manned by a strong young man? By the time we climbed down from the rock, she had landed, hopping out from the boat as if this were an everyday occurrence for her. "This," she said, with a smart little smile, "is the easy way!". We climbed around on the rocks with other tourists, amusing ourselves by watching newcomers attempt Sugar Loaf with varying degrees of confidence.

• Papa meantime had been talking to Minnie's rower, and announced to us that we'd be able to complete our travels that day with a quick row into the next cove over, where the island's owners, the Banning Bros., had their home in Descanso Canyon. The ladies declined the offer; Charley and I jumped into the boat with Papa; and Oscar joined us after a little encouragement. Randolph—that was the name of our boatman—rowed us around to the other side of Sugar Loaf.

• We lay out at the edge of the shallow cove, as Randolph said "the people are home." After the rocky outcropping around Sugar Loaf, the rest of the way to the Banning place widens out first into a beach and then into some nice pretty flat land in the canyon, where they've planted all sorts of exotic plants. It looked just like some of the parks back in Los Angeles.

• The Bannings' house is a big comfortable-looking place, looking very trim and neat in its sparkly whiteness, the hills behind it, still in their primitive state, enhancing its appearance. As we took it all in, though, Papa said, "Time to return, boys; one of the ladies of the house is coming out—we shouldn't sit here gawking like backwoodsmen."

Return to Catalina (part 1); or on to Catalina (part 3)...

Return to BCD Home Page . . .