Posted by: catalinamuseum | 06/09/2010

In Loving Memory…City Hall

As anyone who has walked far enough down Metropole Street knows, there is a large hole where the old City Hall building stood just a week ago.  Although we are sad to see this building go, it is a crucial step to helping create a permanent museum and home for our collections.  I have spent the past two days going through our  archives from 1916-1917 to put a brief history together to send to the Catalina Islander for an article, and have found some interesting information.  I thought I would share it with you here, as I have not had time recently to put together a decent blog entry.

The most amusing story by far actually involved the Old Jail, which is still standing.  (You can read my earlier post on the drawings inside the jail.)  The jail had its first “inmate” in November of 1916.  A sheriff arrested a man found hobbling around Avalon on a stormy night, covered in blood and with clothes in tatters.  The prisoner was placed in one of the new cells until the morning.  Upon arriving at work the next day the sheriff, who expected praise, was reprimanded and told the “drunk” was none other than the Honorable Jeff Bings of Arkansas who was spending the winter on Catalina.  Bings had been in a boating accident on the interior and was forced to walk back to Avalon through a rainstorm, where he arrived physically drained and delirious, not protesting when taken by the officer.  Bings later wrote in the Islander he was just grateful to have a dry place to sleep after trekking through the hills, though was shocked upon waking when he found himself locked in. 

City Hall: The Early Years

In February of 1916 the City of Avalon’s Board of Trustees purchased a lot of land on Metropole Ave with the intention of building a City Hall.  With memories of the Fire of 1915 fresh in their minds, the plans for City Hall included using its basement as a fire station.  Other lots were considered, but the space on Metropole was deemed most strategic due to its central location.  There was also a request to include a public library in the plans for City Hall.  The Board believed, however, that a library should have its own location and that the money for it should not come out of the City Hall budget.

By May of 1916 the Board had created a general plan for City Hall, including a jail to be located behind it.  An ad was placed in the Catalina Islander announcing bids were now being accepted for construction of both buildings.  In June they accepted a bid by Ledger St. Onge of Los Angeles for $4,875.  However, due to strikes on the mainland Onge sent a letter to the Board in July saying that he was unable to honor the contract.

It wasn’t until the end of August of 1916 that a new contract was awarded to Contractor Lambert of Long Beach for a bid of $5,040.  With Lambert construction went quickly and by December of 1916 the Board was busy purchasing furniture for the new the City Hall.  The Islander stated that the budget for furniture was not to exceed $300.  The building was insured for only $4,000 because the Board did not believe the jail needed insurance, as it was built of cement and therefore fireproof.

The first official meeting in the new City Hall building was held on January 12th, 1917.  A flag, presented by local business man and former Board President Mr. J.H. Stamford, was accepted by President Merkley on behalf of the city.  It was then raised above City Hall.  The minutes from the meeting included the Harbor Master reporting that 88 passengers had been over the city pier during the month of December.

Besides official city business, City Hall was also a meeting place for locals and visitors during winter months.  Beginning in November 1917 gatherings were held every Thursday night to provide entertainment and social opportunities during the off-season.  Programs were led by local volunteers and included singing, reading, music, and games.


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