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URBAN HIKE

Airport Urban Hike Part III
updated: Jul 16, 2011, 9:45 AM

By Peter Hartmann & Stacey Wright

This week we continue our report about the airport and its surrounding area. Like Parts I and II 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 we've already mentioned, the airport "hike" is actually comprised of several hikes. Today we give you brief histories of a thriving Chumash village that began long before the arrival of the Spanish, and an important industry that occurred in a really huge aircraft hangar (think Guppy). We'll also share with you photos and information about local war memorials and, as geeky as it sounds, we'll tell you about a gas storage facility that serves a very useful purpose for the people of Santa Barbara. Lastly, we'll share with you photos of wildlife in and around the airport.

Located outside the City limits, on the way to UCSB, and adjacent to the freeway exit that takes you to the airport, sits a mesa-like area called Mescaltitalan Island. There are several variations of the name and spelling of this site, and we are using the one that was given to it at the time of Portola's expedition. The native Chumash who inhabited the island called this area Helo'.

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We were curious why this location had a clearly Aztec name, and got to work investigating it. What we discovered is that to the soldieries of the Portola expedition, the island looked so similar to an island and lagoon in Nayarit, Mexico that they gave it the same name - Mexcaltitan Lagon. Beloved and respected by the Aztecs, Mexcaltitan was believed to the birthplace of Aztec civilization. Later, the name of the local Mexcaltitan morphed into Mescaltitalan Island. But prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the original Chumash inhabitants of our Mescaltitalan Island, called it Helo‘, which is the Chumash word for ‘the water'.

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In pre-mission times, it was estimated that 800 people made Helo' their home. In those days the island was significantly larger, and was surrounded by water. In 1941-42, when fill dirt was needed to fill in the slough to make runways at the airport, the Army Corps of Engineers took the earth from Mescaltitalan Island for this use. There is a display at the Goleta Slough overlook (at the end of the off ramp) that gives information about the island, the inhabitants, and their way of life.

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Historical accounts written by Spanish explorers describe the Chumash living at Helo' as generous, lively, industrious and friendly. Crespi wrote, "All of them have greatly entertained us by coming over with their flutes and pipes, many of them heavily painted and wearing their large feather headdresses for the dancing they did for us". Other contemporaneous descriptions tell of a people who greeted the explorers with fish, seeds, skins, basketry and other gifts. The Chumash at Mescaltitalan Island lived in round reed huts that were laid out on a grid. They slept on elevated cots inside the huts, stored seeds and grains inside their homes and dried their fish on the roofs of the huts. Evidence of the Chumash village is present in the middens that are still visible around Mescaltitalan Island.

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Located under Mescaltitalan Island, is what is reported to be the largest underground natural gas storage facility in the world. At this site, natural gas produced from around the country comes in via an underground pipeline; during the summer months when demand is low, the excess is stored at this Southern California Gas Company facility. During the winter months, when demand increases, the reserves are tapped for our use. Did you ever wonder about all those big pipes that run along the freeway exit? Well wonder no more.

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The present-day Goleta Slough is all that remains of what had been the navigable lagoon surrounding Mescaltitalan Island. Over the years, overgrazing followed by severe brush fires and rains led to a major erosion problem. As a result, the lagoon becomes filled with silt, creating the salt marsh we see now. In the early 1940's, when the runways were built at Santa Barbara Airport, the salt marsh was reduced even more. Today, the Goleta Slough Ecological Reserve is administered by the California Department of Fish and Game. It contains approximately 430 acres of wetland habitat, which is only about a third of what it had been in the 1800‘s and before, when it encompassed approximately 1,150 acres

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As part of a restoration and preservation project of the natural habitat in the salt marsh and slough, the Federal Government is funding the Natural Plant Nursery Project. The project aims to restore the disturbed areas of the slough and surrounding areas to a more natural environment; as such, part of the effort involves restoring both the flora and the fauna of the Goleta Slough. During our hikes on City property in and around SBA, we noticed a wide variety of plants and animals.

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Send this picture as a postcard

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And speaking of aviation...we now return to the airport proper to tell you about the most massive building on the airport property. The hangar, known by many as the "Tracor Aviation" hangar (which it was in the 70‘s or thereabout) has been divided, and now serves as the headquarters of Decker's and is also the home of Fed-Ex.

Send this picture as a postcard

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However, this hangar has a long and impressive history dating back to the mid-1960's, when it was built to manufacture the Guppy aircraft, made by Aero Spacelines.

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There were a total of three Guppy Aircraft models built at the Santa Barbara Airport - the Pregnant Guppy, the Super Guppy and the Mini Guppy. They had the largest cargo compartment of any aircraft at the time, and were built to transport parts for the Saturn Rocket boosters, from the manufacturers on the West Coast to Cape Canaveral in Florida. Guppies were modified Boeing prop-driven aircraft, and therefore ultimately became obsolete with the rise of commercial jet liners. Interestingly, the Guppy was first piloted by Clay Lacy and John Conroy; and it was Clay Lacy who provided the vintage DC-3 for the gala opening of the new SBA terminal last month.

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It should be noted that manufacturing of the Guppy aircraft didn't originate in Santa Barbara; rather they were first built at the Van Nuys Airport in the San Fernando Valley. However, once the decision was made to move the fabrication operation to the Santa Barbara Airport, the massive hangar was built and put into use.

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Ironically, in the early 1970‘s, Airbus Industries used Aero Spaceline's Super Guppy (made of Boeing parts) to transport sections of their newly manufactured airliners to the factory in Toulous, France. Now the major competitor of Boeing, it can be said that all early Airbus planes were delivered on the wings of a Boeing. Also in the 1970's, Aero Spaceline was taken over by Tracor Aviation, which a few years later folded due to a slump in the aviation industry.

In 1975 Clenet Coachworks, the manufacturer of high-end cars with 1930's styling with modern technology was looking for a factory and the old Guppy hangar seemed to be the perfect place. Unfortunately that venture was also relatively short-lived, and in the 1980's folded after producing approximately 500 cars and surviving ownership and management of several different people. Some of the cars (many of which were sold to celebrities, sports figures and royalty) still exist today, but are rarely seen on the streets of Santa Barbara.

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There are a number of historic markers and memorials at and around the airport, marking important locations, memorializing important events and honoring the men and women who have served our country through their military service. We encourage you to take a trip out to the airport and its surrounding streets to see for yourself these various memorials. Some are plaques, some are statues, and some are streets named for local men who perished (we've included only a fraction of them here). All of them are evocative and reminded us to be thankful for the generous service of others.

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The World War II Memorial sits adjacent to Long Term Parking and is inscribed with the names of local service personnel. It also bears an inscription attributed to Leonardo da Vinci that reads:

"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been and there you will always long to return".

Well said for a guy who died in 1519, without having personally experienced the thrill of flight. We believe old Leo would think our airport is pretty cool…just as we do!

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Last, and by no means least, we share with you a photo of James Dean in his sweet racing car...why? Because legend has it that back in the day when there was a race course at the Santa Barbara Airport, Mr. Dean used to come to Santa Barbara and race...we bet you didn't know that about our very, very special little airport!

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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.

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 193312 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-16 10:12 AM

What a great installment of your hikes! I always wondered about the gas. I certainly did know about races at the airport. I think there was one every memorial day weekend. I never saw James Dean although we heard he was in town, but I did see Steve McQueen at the service station down the hill from our house when I was in high school. My brother said McQueen was there so a friend & I casually walked by; sure we were casual.

 

 COMMENT 193347 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-16 11:54 AM

Many thanks for all of this great information about that which is right here on our doorstep and never give any thought. I'm now following up. Thanks!!!
There is a celtic cross on the slough overlooking the beach near the UCSB building which has the names of a Campbell family who probably originated from Scotland and at least one man was in the British army in India. Erosion is taking away a lot of detail but maybe someone knows more about this 10' celtic cross?

 

 COMMENT 193356P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-16 12:32 PM

Excellent article.

 

 COMMENT 193363 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-16 01:20 PM

I always wondered about that large "mound" by the off ramp. I had no idea it was an island at one point. And, I always assumed the pipes had something to do with the offshore drilling. Another little "mystery" solved.

Thanks again Urban Hikers for revealing more interesting historical tidbits about the city!

 

 BECKY agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-16 01:52 PM

Another favorite tidbit about the airport is that many WWII pilots saw a tiny bit of time here, often on their way elsewhere. A handful of those WWII Pacific pilots, like my Dad, remember Goleta in the 1940s, then returned here in the 1970s, during the height of our local aerospace boom. SBRC had a handful of these guys, as did Raytheon.

 

 PIERHEAD agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-16 04:50 PM

For those who remember the series, Baa Baa Black Sheep starring Robert Conrad Pappy Boyington's old outfit, the Black Sheep Squadron was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station, in Goleta from January 1944 until February 1945. Boyington, meanwhile, had been shot down and spent the rest of the war in captivity in Japan.

Black Sheep Squadron: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VMA-214

Pappy Boyington: http://www.militarymuseum.org/Boyington.html

Fascinating story and times!

 

 MTNDRIVER agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-16 06:09 PM

Fascinating! Thanks so much.

 

 COMMENT 193400P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-16 07:16 PM

My friend in jr high had a clenet in his garage. Anybody know rob cord?

 

 PROGRESS agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-17 07:12 AM

You are providing a tremendous service to us Santa Barbarians! Fantastic article, great pictures. Another example of the treasures (and the depth and breadth of them) in front of our noses. Thank you.

 

 SBALAX agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-17 07:54 AM

Another great installment! I remember coming up from Pasadena for the Road Races at the airport. That was when the seed was planted for going to school at UCSB.

I think Tracor survived into the early '90's when they declared bankruptcy. They did quite a bit of work on commercial aircraft including new interiors and exterior paint for a number of Continental DC-10's. They also handled the private 767 of the Sultan of Brunei.

 

 EDONE agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-17 11:12 AM

The big propeller was a 2006 March Edness picture.

Also, we're pretty sure that Tracor occupied the Decker space for most, if not all, of the 1980's.

 

 AUNTIE S. agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-17 06:42 PM

Thanks for another great article. I remember the road races well. We used to get together with five or six couples and potluck a massive picnic both days of the races. What fun - we arrived home coated with dirt and sunburn and very happy.

 

 COMMENT 193619 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-17 10:01 PM

I love the UH articles, just want to make a correction. The orange flower under the "Native Plant Nursery Project" is Leonotis leonurus, also known as Lion's Tail. It's a native of South Africa and one of my favorites. I posted some photos of it years ago on Edhat.

http://www.edhat.com/site/tidbit.cfm?nid=13808

 

 COMMENT 193793 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-18 11:51 AM

Great artical about the Goleta Airport area, I have read and heard much, you put all the info togethere nicely.
Looking forward to more.

 

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