SS CATALINA and SS AVALON sailed 26 miles across the sea from Los Angeles to Catalina Island…

SS CATALINA and SS AVALON sailed 26 miles across the sea from Los Angeles to Catalina Island…


They were called the Big White Steamers.


SS Catalina and SS Avalon docked in Avalon, after completing the 2-hour voyage from Los Angeles (San Pedro), during the late 1940s. 

These day tourist steamships operated together by William Wrigley Company from 1920 into the early 1950s — except for World War 2 – between Los Angeles and Catalina Island. The SS CATALINA continued running into the mid-1970s.

The two ships carried millions of passengers.

A retro-look at the SS CATALINA and SS AVALON.

The SS CATALINA was built at a cost of $1 million by onetime Catalina Island owner and chewing gum mogul William Wrigley, the SS Catalina plied the ocean between Wilmington and Avalon daily between 1924 and 1975.

Along with a 26-mile ocean voyage, a $2.25 round-trip ticket offered 2,200 passengers big-band orchestra music for dancing, children’s entertainment by clowns and magicians, and adult amenities such as a leather settees and drinks from a shipboard bar.

Smaller, faster ferries connecting the mainland and the island eventually spelled doom for the huge steamship, known for its crisp white paint job and deep, melodious horn that announced its departure.


SS Catalina leaving Los Angeles and SS Catalina arriving in Avalon during the 1950s…

Its arrival in Avalon would be heralded by circling speedboats. Children would dive into the water for coins tossed over the rail by passengers as island townspeople sang to passengers walking down the 25-foot gangplanks.


The SS Catalina arriving in Avalon – 1970s… and the SS Catalina and SS Avalon docked in Avalon during the late 1940s… 

“They were probably poor kids trying to make a buck,” former passenger Dorothy Weil of Bel-Air recalled. Although she was too young to drink at the ship’s bar, there was dancing to its orchestra — an unforgettable experience for a teenager in the 1940s.


The SS Catalina and the flying boat-airship during the 1950s… and the SS Catalina docked in Los Angeles with the flying boat-airship ready to depart during the 1940s… 

During World War II, the 1,766-ton vessel with its twin 2,000-horsepower engines and football-field-size steel decks was used as a military transport. It carried 820,199 troops around San Francisco Bay before being returned to Los Angeles.

As it continued its island runs, the ocean cruise-like ship was designated a Los Angeles historical cultural landmark and a state historical landmark and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

ss catalina 1

The SS Catalina is now nothing but a memory; she was scrapped in 2009 after rotting for 12 years in Ensenada Harbor (despite also being declared a California Historic Landmark and its listing on the National Register of Historic Places); preservation efforts in the 1990s failed after endless financial problems and legal actions (see also A three-decade campaign to preserve the once-proud steamship ended failed. 

The SS Catalina arriving in Avalon during the 1920s…


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About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…