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URBAN HIKE

The Airport and its Environs - Part II
updated: Jul 09, 2011, 9:30 AM

By Peter Hartmann & Stacey Wright

This week we continue our report on the airport and its surrounding area. Like Part I of our story, all of the stuff you are about to see takes place (or can be seen) from City property. Even though it looks like Goleta, is surrounded by Goleta and acts like Goleta, this area is really within the City limits of Santa Barbara.

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As mentioned last week, this "hike" was actually comprised of several hikes. Today we cover the control tower, tell a bit of history about the airport and the Marine Base, show you a few photos of the remains of the base (ammo bunkers, hangars and other buildings) and share a few photos of the aircraft that arrive and depart from SBA.

The control tower is a place that naturally evokes a sense of awe and mystique in most everyone. In reality it's little more than a really tall building, loaded with a whole lot of technology, and staffed with a bunch of intelligent, dedicated people whose primary function it is to keep pilots and their passengers safe. We know this first hand because we were lucky enough to get invited in. The views from the tower and the cat walk were fantastic, and the hospitality of the staff there was equally spectacular. The "new" tower, built in 1998, stands 142 above the airport. The controllers sit in the cab, 127' above ground and work from what must be one of the finest "view lots" in the world.

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When one first enters the control tower, there's a feeling of excitement that takes over...luckily the FAA imposes a few rules which are strictly enforced, making it impossible for visitors to run amok...one of the Urban Hikers was all set to plan a really unique party there...we were told, however, that all festivities occur off premises and after hours...so the best we could do was take a couple of shots in the lobby to show what an amazing party venue the place could have been, if not for the rules.

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While on the catwalk at the tower, Todd (our host and the Assistant Manager of the tower) pointed out the location of the old tower, which was replaced by the red-tile roof building shown below. It's the building closest to the tarmac.

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We searched around a little off the airport property and located the cab of the old tower over on Fairview Avenue near the McDonald's...Today it's being used as a very cool carport. And back at the airport, during our very thorough exploration, we found a second structure that looks a lot like a tower, but isn't...it's part of the Decker's headquarters, located in the old Tracor Aviation hangar.

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Thanks to Todd for graciously taking time out of his busy schedule, as well as to the controllers, for their hospitality during our visit to the control tower. With approximately 500 aircraft operations to oversee each day, we understand and appreciate the importance of all of the air traffic controllers' work.

Last week we showed you a photo of the first hangars and the first airline terminal at the airport. Perhaps there was even a tower at the terminal in those days - we aren't sure... But we do know that in 1936, United Airlines started its service out of Santa Barbara in those same humble little hangars, which still exist near the corner of Fairview and Hollister Avenues. In 1940, in anticipation of war, the Federal Government initiated a defense program that called for a total of 250 airports to be built across the country. Thomas Storke, the owner of the Santa Barbara News Press, had a vested interest in seeing that Santa Barbara was one of the cities selected to receive Federal funds for the construction of a municipal airport. He lobbied hard, and ultimately succeeded in getting the support of local citizens as well as the Feds, both of whom contributed to the creation of what is now the sweetest little airport in the whole wide world. We think it's fitting that from the catwalk atop the tower we could see and appreciate the unique architecture of Storke Tower, keeping a watchful eye over both UCSB and the airport. (Insert pic 11)

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Before the municipal airport could be completed, Pearl Harbor shattered the concept of a new and modern public airport for Santa Barbara. The United terminal, (designed by Edwards & Plunkett, architects of the Arlington and other local Spanish Revival buildings) was only about half way built and was immediately requisitioned for use by the military. It was first used by the US Army, and shortly thereafter became home to a Marine Corps Air Station. The military brass, obviously recognizing great architecture, quickly made a headquarters of the terminal, the very top of which served as an aircraft control tower. The old General Western Aero Corp hangers, once occupied by United Airlines (and shown last week's Urban Hike article) were utilized as barracks and a mess hall.

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Between 1942 and 1946, the US Marines occupied the base at the Santa Barbara Airport, using it primarily as a training facility. Unfortunately, there were 101 reported aviation accidents during those years, some of which resulted in death. There are several WWII memorials associated with the airport and we will report on them in more depth next week, but for now we'll share with you the displays from the WWII Memorial at SBA showing, among other things, the training aspects of the Air Base at SBA.

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Also during the years 1942 to 1946, the Marines built several hangars and service buildings, many of which are still in use today. For example, quite a few of the old aircraft hangars, as well as the buildings that now house the Airport Administration Building and the nearby Visitor's Center; all previously served as military operations buildings.

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Although we don't have photos of the old barracks located on what is now UCSB property, it's interesting to note that approximately 4,000 military personnel lived and worked in buildings constructed for that purpose by the Marines during that era. Since 1952 the buildings have been used by UCSB as labs, offices and storage units.

Following the end of WWII, the airport was returned to the City of Santa Barbara, and commerce resumed where it had left off. In 1946, the commercial airline industry was returning to peacetime activities, and the American public was anxious and excited about the travel opportunities that awaited them. The United terminal was ultimately completed for public use and began operating to serve Santa Barbarans as they embarked on far off adventures. The humble little terminal which many of us still admire dearly was recently replaced by a larger, more upscale building, meant to serve a larger number of travelers and airlines. (Urban Hiker story about the opening of the terminal on Edhat 6/17/11.)

Luckily there are many among us who still possess a sense of romance and nostalgia… as a result, the little terminal has been spared in the renovation, and we are told it will shortly be moved closer to the new terminal, where its primary use will be to house administrative offices.

During our exploration of the airport, we discovered that some of the most fascinating structures on the property are remnants from the Marine Air Base. Among them are the ammunition bunkers located in the southwest end of the old base. We visited one of the bunkers, and although we didn't get to look inside, we understand they are being used as storage units by the City of Santa Barbara. Several of the other bunkers were the subject of a recent Edhat article, and while not located on airport property proper, they were once a part of the Marine Base. We presume that like the one we visited, they are also being used by the City as storage units.

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As promised last week, we'll share with you a few photos of what we believe are celebrity's planes...heck, anyone with a plane at SBA is obviously a celebrity. One of these pics is of Ty Warner's jet...we think the other may be Oprah's...the others we haven't a clue, but we still think they are pretty neato.

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Next week we'll wrap up our story about SBA and its surrounding areas, by sharing with you the history of a Chumash village known as Helo, which was located at Mescalitan Island, interesting things about the Goleta Slough, the various local memorials to the WWII fallen, a peek into a gas storage facility (it's way cooler than it sounds), and a few photos of the diverse plants and animals in this part of town.

As always, we encourage you to go on foot and explore our great community, to discover new and wonderful things and above all to keep your eyes, ears and minds open in your travels.

 

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