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Catalina Tiles

Here is a great little article from the Valley Chronicle newspaper online. Catalina’s exquisite tile a nearly lost heritage

From The Valley Chronicle

Catalina TilesBy ARLENE LEHTONE
Published: Friday, July 30, 2010 10:07 AM PDT
Twenty-two miles off the coast of Southern California, Catalina Island’s interesting pottery, tile and brick factory was built in 1923 and lasted until the late 1930s.

The idea for a tile factory came from William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum magnate, who owned Catalina Island, and David Renton, a well-regarded Arts and Crafts builder in Pasadena. Renton was involved in the construction of the Mount Wilson Observatory and responsible for developing the city of Avalon’s infrastructure.

Wrigley financed the prestigious plant to provide roofing tiles, bricks, and ornamental glazed tiles for his Moorish Revival circular Casino.

The decorative tiles were glazed individually by hand.The richness and charm of these decorative and distinctive functional tiles enriched interiors and exteriors of elegant manors, Spanish Colonial homes, Victorian and Craftsman homes, Deco cottages, midcentury condos, and civic structures, both on and off Catalina.

My husband, Lloyd, and I found exquisite pictorial tile murals in fountains, patios, the airport, and storefronts. The tiles adorn the facades of buildings, tabletops, planters, and swimming pool bottoms (leaping orange fish, in blue deco waves, line the pool of Al Capone’s resort hotel in the hills of California).

We also saw early Catalina patio tile installations at the country club, at the entrance to the Inn on Mount Ada (the former Wrigley Home), and on the steps of the El Encanto Market Place.

Lloyd and I admired these treasures from a near-lost California heritage in numerous murals and mosaics on shops and even rest rooms.

Also admired was a good representation of patterns and motifs at the Catalina Island Museum, on the ground floor of the Casino, along with tables with Catalina tile inlays, and a beautiful multi-colored tile backgammon board.

Lloyd and I saw concrete planter boxes, with pictorial and geometric tiles on Crescent Avenue, and big, shiny square tiles in black, red, green, cobalt and yellow, on the low Serpentine Wall, separating Crescent Avenue from the beach.

The Cabrillo Fountain, with its decorative tiles, graces the waterfront. We admired the Moresque tiles, flanked by panels depicting fantastic Oriental birds, forming the backdrop for one of the island’s exuberant ceramic fountains.

Exquisite Santa Catalina tiles depict island life, flying fish, cactus, buffalo, nautical symbols, flowers, and birds. Inspired by the public Bird Park, home to about 3,000 rare and exotic birds, the Bird Murals are a creative and vivid example of the island’s ceramic artistry.

Catalina tile is a significant contribution to American decorative arts. Glazed tile was a striking element introduced by the Spanish Colonial Revival. The first of these Southern California-made pictorial and geometric tiles probably were created for the 1915 Panama-California International Exposition in San Diego’s Balboa Park.

The Spanish Revival movement of the 1920s and 1930s was the golden era of California art and architecture. Experienced Mexican tile artisans were hired. Catalina’s glazes called upon the bright hues of nature, and competitors frequently copied these patterns and designs.

By 1930, they made sophisticated housewares, dinnerware, garden pots, and novelties. At its peak years, 1932 to 1935, dinnerware sets called Catalina-ware were sold in the finest stores. Tables and murals were shipped around the country. Mrs. Wrigley even contributed a few ideas, including the popular backgammon and checkerboard gaming tables.

Collectors, decorators, and architects found a new appreciation for this historic style, sometimes called California Revival. Original tile designs are expensive and are coveted collector’s items, although splendid reproductions are popular with decorators and architects.

Beautiful landscape friezes, deeply carved doors and wood tables, inset with Mexican-motif tiles, are found in collectors’ homes, along with tiles of seahorses, Viking ships, and exotic birds.

Most of these early tiles, salvaged from demolitions, are the province of museums, but occasionally surface in antique stores. Today’s tile collectors benefit from increased awareness of the value of old tiles among salvage crews in America and England, who no longer crush them to rubble during demolitions.

On the mainland, almost all Catalina tile installations and collections are in private residences. Pottery companies throughout California produce tiles, but none equals the renown of those made on Catalina Island from the 1920s and 1930s

Catalina Island Chamber

Flicker photos of Catalina Tiles