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Incline L.A.: Catalina's Island Mountain Railway (Episode 3)

Need to catch up? Watch Part 1 on incline railways in downtown L.A. and Part 2 on Mt. Washington's residential railway.

The year was 1892, and Catalina Island was in foreclosure.

Its owner, George Shatto, had envisioned a resort town on the island but had built few tourist amenities apart from the three-story Hotel Metropole. When the island finally slipped from Shatto's hands, its new owners purchased it for just $280,000.

Today, sun-soaked Catalina Island -- a rugged mountain range rising from the sea some twenty miles off the coast of Los Angeles -- seems like a natural setting for a resort town. But at the time, its future as a tourist destination was in no way assured. It took a sustained campaign of new construction and scenic beautification -- spearheaded by the island's new owners, the Banning family -- to transform Catalina and the town of Avalon into a tourist's paradise.

The Banning brothers -- Joseph, William, and Hancock -- capitalized on Catalina's natural charms, encouraging sport fishing and big-game hunting and sponsoring stagecoach tours of the island. But nature alone was not enough. Among the other changes the Bannings brought: liquor at the previously dry Hotel Metropole; a vast tent-cabin city; a golf course.

And between 1904 and 1906, they built a monument to modern industrial technology: an incline railway, its station just steps away from the wharf in Avalon.

Collections Featured in Episode One: Downtown

Experts Featured in Episode One: Downtown

Special thanks to Water Tower for permission to use their "Pilgrim Song."


L.A. as Subject is an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, cultural institutions, and private collectors. Hosted by the USC Libraries, L.A. as Subject is dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden stories and histories of the Los Angeles region.

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