Catalina: Hamilton Cove, Glenmore Plaza Hotel and the ‘Other Side’

by Bob Sparrow

photo (89)Twenty-thirteen portends to be an unusual year for me, perhaps even paranormal, what with all the ‘other side’ things that helped usher in a year with a 13 in it.  No, I’m not superstitious, but like Michael Scott, I am a little ‘stitious’.  While most New Year’s days I’ve watched the sun set into the Pacific Ocean somewhere along the ‘left coast’, this year I welcomed in the new year on the ‘other side’ watching the sun coming up over the Pacific from Hamilton Cove on Catalina Island – truly a unique experience.  OK, truth is there haven’t been too many years when I’ve even seen the sun on New Year’s Day, but that’s another story.

If you’ve never been there, Hamilton Cove looks like it belongs on the ‘other side’ of the Atlantic, perhaps on a Greek island coastline or hanging somewhere off the Amalfi Coast in Italy.  I suppose if you have been there, it still looks that way, but as if getting away from it all in Catalina wasn’t enough, several of us wanted to get away from the people who wanted to get away from it all – to the ‘other side’ of Catalina.  I discovered that Catalina is a little like the moon, in that most people only see one side, although I can tell you now from experience, that the ‘other side’ of Catalina is not dark . . . photo (95)unless you go at night, then it’s really dark.  Like the moon, it’s not easy to get to the ‘other side’ of Catalina, you have to have a pass that gets you through the gate on the road to the ‘other side’ that goes through the infamous ‘Airport in the Sky’, Catalina’s private airport where planes don’t really take off from the runway, the runway simply drops out from under them after several thousand feet and, presto, they’re airborne.

glenmore plaza hotelWe were fortunate to be in the company of one Michael Amoroso, whose family has lived on the island for over twenty years and owns and operate the Glenmore Plaza Hotel, ‘the second oldest continuously operating hotel in California’, so says Michael’s brother, Jimmy, who manages the hotel.  I thought it odd that a hotel in this relatively remote location would have such a distinction so I asked Jimmy Jr., Jimmy’s son who works at the hotel, “Whose #1?”  He replied like someone who’d studied hotel history his entire life, “The Hotel del Coronado.”  I decided to see what Google had to say on the matter:

  • ‘Oldest hotel in California’ – the Benicia in northern California – est. 1852
  • ‘One of the oldest hotels in California’ – Murphy’s in the gold country – est. 1856
  • ‘One of the oldest continuously operating hotels in Calif’ – National Hotel (also in the gold country) – est. 1859
  • ‘Largest resort hotel in the world’ – Hotel del Coronado – est. 1888
  • ‘Second oldest hotel in California’ – so stated on Google about the Glenmore Plaza Hotel, but it doesn’t say who’s first or when the Glenmore was established.  Wikipedia probably got their information from Jimmy Jr. too.

I also found on Google a picture with a caption that said, ‘Second oldest hotel in California’ – it was not a picture of the Glenmore.

Meanwhile, back on the road to ‘the other side’, just before reaching the airport we see a buffalo standing alongside the road.  I’ll tell you the photo (92)history of how buffalo got on the island . . . another time.  After a brief stop at the airport, we start down on the western slope of the island; the paved road turns to dirt.  We drive past El Rancho Escondido, a ranch, Michael tells us, started by the Wrigley family back in the ‘30s for breeding Arabian horses – another story too long to tell here.  We also pass a vineyard – yes, another story.  The road leads us to a west coast inlet called ‘Little Harbor’, where there is no man-made harbor, but a small campgrounds and no campers, no nothing except a beautiful uncluttered coastline, which is pretty much what all of the ‘other side’ of Catalina is.  We walked along the beach on this beautiful January day and enjoyed the fresh air, sunshine and solitude.

little harborOur return to civilization is uneventful except for the stories Michael tells us of the ghosts that   inhabit the island.  Back in Avalon we thank Michael for exposing us to the many stories and sides of Catalina, particularly ‘the other side’.




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Catalina, 26 Miles, The Four Preps and Earworms

by Bob Sparrow

    My most recent ‘road trip’ took me off the road and on the water, to Santa Catalina Island.  It is a very interesting island, to say the least.

  • It has a casino where gambling is banned
  • It has a herd of Bison left behind after a film was shot
  • The main town, Avalon has a 3rd Street, but no 1st or 2nd  Street
  • The local post office doesn’t deliver the mail
  • But the local cabs deliver pizzas

      You may know the island from the song ’26 Miles’, made famous by the Four Preps in 1958.  I’m warning you right now, if you remember the song and you go to Catalina, that song will be playing in your head – THE WHOLE TIME YOU’RE THERE!  I believe that’s called an ‘earworm’ – it felt more like ringworm.  Like most people my age, I remember some of the lyrics to the song, but not all of them, so I ended up humming the words I didn’t know.  Out of frustration of this song being on ‘replay’ in my head for three days, I decided to look up the real lyrics.  It is said that the cure for earworm is to finish the song and I couldn’t finish the song until I looked up the actual lyrics.  So I did.  I was not surprised to find that these 1950 classically banal lyrics were . . . well, classically banal as well as factually inaccurate, starting with the title.

Catalina Island is 22 miles from Los Angeles, 33 miles from Long Beach and 34 miles from Newport Beach – it is not 26 miles from any port.

Water all around it everywhere’ – Isn’t this a little superfluous?  Isn’t an island, by definition, a land mass that has water all around it – everywhere?

‘I’d swim with just some water wings and my guitar’ – The song was written by Four Prep members, Bruce Belland and Glen Larson, two mature Southern California young men.  I think we get a clue to their desperation when they suggest that they’ll swim 26 miles (or whatever) to find romance and that they’ll use water wings to do so.  Two men swimming to Catalina with water wings really doesn’t call up an image of the kind of men women would be looking to hook up with, even in the 50s.  But if for some reason they were not able to navigate the 26 miles in water wings . . .

I can leave the wings but I’ll need the guitar for romance.  This seems to suggest that if their little sister had borrowed their water wings for the weekend, they could leave them and use a guitar to get over to the island.  Acoustical guitars are made of wood and can be fairly buoyant, and perhaps even act as a floatation device, but the guitar would have been rendered unplayable after upwards of 8-10 hours in salt water.  So these ‘Preps’, who apparently were striking out with women at home, were probably not going to have much better luck on Catalina.

I’d work for anyone even the Navy, who would float me to my island dream . . .   This plan seems a bit half-baked and completely irrational, but that really doesn’t surprise us at this point, does it?  Joining the navy would probably mean a four-year commitment and training who knows where.  After basic training their chances of getting deployed to Catalina would have been non-existent.

Forty kilometers in a leaky old boat, any old thing that will stay afloat   Finally the boys have the right idea here by looking into a boat; the fact that they’d settle for one that is old and leaky speaks volumes about their nautical acumen.  Why they’ve switched to the metric system for measurement here I’m not sure, but forty kilometers is equal to a little more than 24 miles, still leaving them far short of their chosen destination.

While looking at the logic of the lyrics was a bit unsettling, finishing the song did indeed rid me of my earworm.  How was Catalina?  Very enjoyable, so enjoyable in fact that I’m headed back there to spend the New Year’s weekend – at that time I’ll try to give you more of a flavor for the island itself, assuming I can get that damn song out of my head.

 PS: I actually like the song and The Four Preps