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Newsletter


History

DC-3 Gifts & Grill

(aka The Runway Cafe or Buffalo Springs Station)

For over 25 years, Sue Rikalo has been providing quality food and outstanding customer service at the Airport in the Sky.  Her family history on Catalina Island reaches back to 1914, when her grandfather "Nono" arrived on the island as a dishwasher. He married, became a fisherman, and built a home complete 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.

Her journey to developing the DC-3 Gifts & Grill started because of  some ice cream enjoyed on a summer day.  Sue and her sisters were taking a ride to the windward beaches when they decided to stop at the Airport in the Sky for a sweet treat.  The Catalina Conservancy's operation at that time consisted of a small gift shop and a restaurant with a fairly limited menu.  It occurred to Sue that the Conservancy might want to sublet and expand the business.

She went to the Conservancy Offices.  Two weeks later they awarded her the restaurant contract.  She was asked to remodel the premises and open in just 3 weeks. 

The first day was crazy.  Most of the equipment wasn't installed until the night before the Grand Opening and employees didn't even know what was on the menu.  Sue got up at 3 in the morning to head to work. In a sign of things to come, she got stuck in a rare island traffic jam - 20 semi-trucks headed into the interior for a film shoot were blocking the gate.  No one had a pass card to drive into the interior.  The 4 extra hours of prep time Sue had hoped for,  turned into a mad scramble of activity before the doors opened.  That day, every curious pilot in Southern California flew in (seemingly at the same time) and business has been booming ever since.

 

Catalina's Airport in the Sky

Located "22 miles across the sea", Santa Catalina Island is a gem in the blue Pacific Ocean, ready to welcome travelers and adventurers.  Until 1946 the only regular mode of transportation to the island was by watercraft, flying boat or amphibious plane.  With the completion and opening of the Catalina Airport, (elevation 1602 feet), visitors and residents were able to enjoy a trip to the island via United Airlines passenger services.  By 1955 small private aircraft were able to fly in. 

The Runway

The Airport in the Sky was commissioned 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 use in the war effort.  The cost of the lease was $1 per year.  After the war, the island was returned to the Wrigley Family and the Santa Catalina Island Company, and the paving of the runway and completion of the tower and terminal building commenced. Runway 22 was closed from December - May 2 for repair.  Through an innovative group effort, the ACE Clearwater Airfield reopened on May 3, 2019.

The Terminal Building

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 massive stone fireplace, crackles with a warm fire on cool summer nights or cold winter days.  

The Tower

The Tower's construction was partially completed before WWII began.  During the war years the tower looked more like a scaffolding than a tower and it was used as a makeshift "look out".  To discourage the enemy from landing on the island, the military added 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 to book a shuttle bus.  The Tower also provides a beautiful panorama view of the runway and west side of the island.

The Hangar

The Airport Hangar, which looms over the road's entrance to the Airport in the Sky, originally belonged to Wilmington Catalina Airlines for use at the Hamilton Beach Airport outside of Avalon.  The hangar was moved piece by piece up the hill to the Airport in the Sky and rebuilt to store the Wrigley family's DC-3 aircraft.   The hangar has had extensive repair and its refurbishment is now complete.