Santa Catalina Island’s oldest geological formations date back over 100 million years and its newest formations emerged 5 to 20 million years ago. This 75-square-mile island off the coast of Southern California has been inhabited by humans for over 8,000 years.
Prior to European exploration in the region, Santa Catalina was inhabited by the Gabrielino/Tongva people who called the island Pimu or Pimugna. The Tongva called themselves Pimugnans. The Pimugnans settled the island in 7,000 BCE and were largely miners and traders of soapstone, which was common here.
European exploration in 1542 led explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo to claim the island for Spain, giving it the name San Salvador. Spain maintained its claim on the island for centuries. In 1846, the island was granted to Thomas M. Robbins as a Mexican land grant and was christened Rancho Santa Catalina. The grant passed through several hands before coming into ownership by James Lick, who owned the entirety of the island from 1864 to 1887. Lick sold the island to George Shatto, who was the first owner to attempt developing the island into a tourist destination. After Shatto defaulted on his loan, however, the island once again changed hands several times before 1915, when a fire burned half the buildings in the newly-developed settlement that would become Avalon.
Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. was one of the main investors when the Banning brothers were forced to sell the island in shares in 1919. After buying out almost all of the other shareholders, Wrigley invested millions to develop Santa Catalina Island into a tourist resort.
Philip K. Wrigley assumed ownership of the island following his father’s death in 1932, and in 1975 he dedicated 42,135 acres to the Catalina Island Conservancy, which continues to control 88% of the island. The Conservancy hosts a wide variety of educational programs each year, providing opportunities for children and adults alike to experience the uniqueness of Catalina's Mediterranean ecosystem.