Each summer in early June a few thousand swing dancers descend on Catalina: a small, picturesque island 22 miles west of mainland Los Angeles famous for its quaint inns, breathtaking landscape and clear waters. Avalon, the center of island population, buzzes with the sounds of Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton and Count Basie, while Lindy Hop, Charleston and Balboa are performed, literally, on every street corner and club on Crescent Avenue, the main street running through town.
Twelve stories high and 180 feet in diameter, the Casino holds a large movie theater on the first floor with remarkable acoustic features, gold- and silver-hued ornamentation and an immense hand-painted mural depicting the geography and history of Catalina Island. Above the theatre lies the Ballroom. At 10,000 square feet it boasts an arched 50 foot domed ceiling that holds five Tiffany chandeliers, rose-colored walls made up of full-length panoramic windows, an expansive outdoor balcony, an elevated stage, and spacious seating surround the circular dance floor. Sophisticated mood lighting is also used to create a magical ambiance for different tempos and styles of music.
Seems small from the outside but get inside and wow!
Designed by Los Angeles-based architects Walter Webber and Sumner A. Spaulding, the Casino building was commissioned by the Santa Catalina Island Company and constructed in 1929. It rises 140 feet - the equivalent of a 12-story office building. But the structure - round, decorative, and with a diameter of 180 feet - is anything but businesslike. The building, designed in Moorish Alhambra style, features a lower-level movie theater, above which sits an elaborate ballroom adorned with intricate Art Deco fixtures. Sixteen glass double doors lead to a12-foot-wide balcony that wraps around the ballroom. Inside, the ballroom itself boasts high, intricate ceilings, an ornate central chandelier and an absence of interior columns for optimum sight lines.
It's the biggest existing ballroom of its type, with wood flooring that rests on a cushion of cork overlaid with felt and acoustical paper and pine, unique details specifically designed to create ideal dancing conditions. And dance they did - mainlanders often traveled the 26 miles to Avalon for Saturday night dances, and on May 8, 1940, a record 6,200 people danced in the Casino Ballroom to the music of Kay Kyser.