Island living in Avalon: From the saline to the sublime

One thing I learned while looking into real estate on Catalina—and it’s kind of a crucial fact—is you can’t drink out of the toilets on the island. Catalina’s 4,000 residents, presumably, already know this, but it was an eye-opener for this mainlander.

When Catalina Realtor Earl Schrader told me that saltwater was included in residents’ tax bill, I asked him why there was a saltwater fee.

“Because our toilets run on saltwater,” he explained.

So there’s that.

Otherwise, there are a few other things to consider before you pull up stakes, abandoned your toilets full of refreshing Artesian spring water and take up island living.

I knew it was almost impossible to have a regular automobile on Catalina. “I think the waiting list to have a full-size auto is about 30 years,” said Schrader. “People are signing up now for their unborn children.” So, golf carts—they’re still often called autoettes—are the norm, and limited to one per residence, but I didn’t know Smart cars were OK.

“Yeah, it’s a matter of size,” said Schrader. “And Smart cars have the advantage of being able to go into the interior of the island, though they kind of get torn up a bit.”

Food costs slightly more on Catalina, as does gas, though you don’t need a lot of the latter. Your big expense would be a medical emergency, which would require an emergency helicopter flight to a mainland hospital.

“A lot of residents go across to see their doctors and dentists,” said Schrader. “They’re usually the ones on the early boat leaving the island.”

Avalon home prices roughly mirror the prices you’ll find in coastal Long Beach, not surprisingly because Catalina is largely coastal and even a rundown lean-to is likely to have an ocean view or be “steps from the beach.”

The median home price is about $750,000, and don’t waste your time taking a boat across the San Pedro Channel looking for anything under $500,000.

The asking price for this cottage at 342 Clarissa Ave. in Avalon is $599,000. Listing photo.

“Expensive? Yeah, I’d say it’s expensive when a small one-bedroom house with less than 1,000 square feet is selling for half a million dollars,” said Schrader. And, yes, when you sound it out like that, I’d have to agree, though covering real estate in Long Beach, where a house filled with rats and feral cats can go for $750,000, has made me feel like $500,000 is the new $20 bill.

Schrader was referring to his listing of a 1920 cottage featuring one bedroom and one bath in 873 square feet with a side garden and an asking price of $599,000. And, yeah, that’s a lot of money, but the cottage is not only a couple of blocks from the beach, it’s cute—bordering on darling—and it’s tempting to just want to snap it up for a summer pad, a temptation that flutters away quickly upon a cursory glance at my finances and impending home repairs. It’s sad to finally come to terms with the fact that I can’t afford to buy a crappy half-million-dollar property. I blame journalism.

Something a bit higher up in class and cost is a nice three-bedroom, two-bath home at 333 Marilla Ave. It’s a charmer, built in 1926 and it looks like your grandma’s house, that is if you had a proper grandma.

This split-level home at 333 Marilla Ave. in Avalon is on the market for $995,000. Listing photo.

The 1,272 square-foot split-level residence has a European vibe going for it, especially the spacious terraced backyard with lemon, orange and fig trees. It’s got a big garage for your little cars. Inside, you’ve got a cozy fireplace along with a more modern tankless water heater. Your price? $995,000.

One of Schrader’s higher-end properties is The Old Turner Inn, and when a home has a name, it’s gonna hit your pocketbook a little, and this one does just that at a listing price of $2.75 million.

Here’s the thing about The Old Turner Inn: It’s still an inn, though there’s nothing that says it has to stay that way. Come in like a robber baron and take all of the Cape Cod-style house’s eight bedrooms and six baths for yourself, or just set aside a little bit  and continue to run the inn as a bed and breakfast. I’m not going to tell you how to run your life.

Want to be an innkeeper? Catalina’s eight-bedroom Old Turner Inn is on the market for $2.75 million. Listing photo.

Four of the bedrooms have fireplaces and there’s another in the den.

Like most of the housing stock in Avalon, the place goes back to the 1920s, but it went through a complete renovation in 1987. It’s just a block from the beach and the Green Pleasure Pier.

One last problem that has occasionally plagued the island is an occasional shortage of water. That’s not a problem now, says Schrader. “We’re done with the water problem, though it’s my wish that people don’t take it for granted.”

Yes, it’s always wise to conserve water anywhere in Southern California, but especially, perhaps, on an island, where you don’t even have the toilet bowl as an emergency backup supply.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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