For nearly 25 years, Sue Rikalo has been providing quality food and service at the Airport in the Sky. Her family history on Catalina Island reaches back to 1914, when her Nono arrived on the island as a dishwasher, married, became a fisherman, and built a home complete with with a cellar for making wine and a back yard for smoking meat. Sue's dad was born in Avalon and she and her sisters were raised on tales of the good old days. Sue moved here after graduating from college and transitioned from waitress to restaurant owner.
Her journey with the DC-3 Gifts & Grill started because of an ice cream on a summer day. Sue and her sisters were taking a ride in the island's interior and heading to the windward beaches when they decided to stop at the Airport in the Sky for a sweet treat. The Catalina Conservancy was running the operation at the time, which consisted of a small gift shop and a restaurant featuring a fairly limited menu. It occured to her that they might prefer to sublet the business and that she should at least inquire.
That week she went into the Conservancy Offices; two weeks later they requested she have the businees open in 3 weeks, including any remodeling.
The first day was crazy - most of the equipment wasn't installed until the night before the grand re-opeing and the employees had not had a chance to study the menu. Sue got up at 3 in the morning of opening day to head for the airport to get a bit organized. In a sign of things to come, she got stuck in a true island traffic jam - 20 semi-trucks heading into the interior for a film shoot and no one with a card to unlock the gate into the interior! What should have been 4 extra hours of prep time turned into just a few minutes before the door opened. To top it off every curious pilot in Southern California made their way out here - all at the same time - and the first lunch rush of many occurred.
Located 22 miles across the sea, Santa Catalina Island sits in the blue Pacific Ocean, ready to welcome all that seek her out. Until 1946 the only regular mode of transportation to the island was watercraft, flying boat or amphibious plane. With the completion and opening of the Catalina Airport, located on the top of two leveled mountain peaks (elevation 1602 feet), visitors and residents were able to enjoy a trip to the island via a United Airlines flight, and by 1955, small private aircraft.
The Airport in the Sky was comissioned by the Wrigley Family, under the direction of Phillip Knight Wrigley, William Wrigley, Jr.'s only son. Two mountain tops were leveled and the remaining canyon filled in to create the 3,200 foot runway. Construction of the runway began in 1940 and was nearing completion when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. Because of World War II, construction was halted and the airfield, along with the rest of Catalina Island, was leased to the US Government for $1 per year. The runway was covered with debris so that enemy aircraft would not be able to use it as a base. After the island was returned to the Wrigley Family and the Santa Catalina Island Company, paving of the runway and completion of the tower and terminal building commenced.
The Terminal Building, which now serves as our Gift Shop and Indoor Dining Room, was once an actual terminal, complete with swanky chairs, couches and Catalina Tile Game Tables. The fireplace, which is original, could be found crackling with warmth on a cool summer night or a cold winter day.
The Tower's construction was partially completed before WWII began. During the war years the tower looked like a scaffolding more than a tower and was used as a makeshift look out area. To discourage the enemy from landing on the island, the military even added on scrap wood, metal and barbed wire fencing. The Tower now houses Catalina Conservancy ranger offices, the Airport Tower staff, and communications systems for the area. Stop in for a visit to the 2nd floor to get general information, pay your landing fees, and book or confirm the Safari Bus or Wildlands Express. The Tower also provides a beautiful view of the entire runway and West side of the island.
The Airport Hangar, which now sits at the entrance of the Airport in the Sky, was originally used by Wilmington Catalina Airlines at the Hamilton Beach Airport near Avalon. The hangar was moved piece by piece up the hill to the Airport in the Sky and rebuilt to store the Wrigley family DC-3 along with a few other planes. The hangar is now undergoing an extensive repair and re-model. We hope to add some new pictures here soon of the completed project.