Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois is known the world over as the home of the Cubs but it wasn’t the first Wrigley field that players called home. That’s an honor reserved for a field on an island just off the coast of Southern California in Los Angeles County: Catalina Island. And the field isn’t the only Cubs connection the island can boast.
At what is now the Catalina Country Club in the town of Avalon, an extensive collection of black-and-white photos help record the Cubs connection to Catalina Island. It began in 1919, when chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley Jr. acquired the majority interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company.
In 1921, Wrigley became majority owner of the Chicago Cubs and created Wrigley Field in Avalon Canyon as the location for the Cubs’ spring training. From 1921 to 1951 (excepting the World War II years) the Chicago Cubs eschewed popular states like Florida and Arizona and instead trekked to what was then known as Santa Catalina Island for the spring training season. Enthusiastic locals welcomed the players and looked forward to the renown the Cubs-in-residence brought. One of whom may have been a young Norma Jeane, before she became Marilyn Monroe, when she worked at the candy shop in Avalon and was married to Jim Doughtery. Ronald “Dutch” Reagan’s time on Catalina also coincided with the Cubs years as he was a radio sportscaster covering the team.
By 1928, more than a field was needed for players, staff and assorted family and friends associated with training. So Wrigley had what is now the Catalina Country Club built to function as the clubhouse for his Chicago Cubs. And function it did, until 1951 when the Chicago Cubs held their final spring training in Avalon, 30 years after William Wrigley Jr. first brought the team to Catalina.
Recently renovated, the club’s eclectic mix of Spanish Colonial design and sports memorabilia is now just one place on the island that keeps the Cubs history alive. Visitors can attend happy hour in the same room that players may once have drank a cold pint after practice. A patio decorated with colorful tiles where players might once have rested now welcomes visitors to relax under long strands of twinkle lights surrounded by native greenery.
Though time has marched on, many island residents have not. When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, cheers echoed through Avalon Canyon and “Take Me Out to Ballgame” was played on the Catalina Chimes. And in 2019, when Wrigley Field in Chicago opened new private clubs, one was named the Catalina Club in honor of the team’s years training on Santa Catalina thanks to Wrigley.
Photos, posters, jerseys, tickets and more, from the team’s time on the island can also be found not too far away in Avalon at the Catalina Island Museum. Wrigley Field was located just below the Catalina Island golf course. It is gone now but a plaque commemorates its location. Golfers today can access the pro shop and locker rooms in the Catalina Country Club aka the old Clubhouse. All of it is not too far from Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden where Wrigley intended to be laid to rest with his wife Ada.
Know Before You Go
The Catalina Country Club is only open to the public for weddings and private events. However, tours that may include the Club can be booked through the Catalina Island Company which manages all Wrigley-connected properties on Catalina Island. Call 310.510.7428 or visit the website for current availability.