Old Town Goleta’s Historic Rexall Drugstore

Old Town Goleta in the 1950s showcasing the Rexall Drugstore (Photo: GoletaHistory.com)

By Tom Modugno of Goleta History

This classic photograph of Old Town Goleta in the 1950s has been making the rounds on social media for a while now. There are several cool things about it, like the angled parking, the classic cars, the streetlight dangling above Hollister, the yellow pedestrian crossing sign in the middle of Hollister, etc. But on this page, we will dig deeper into the Rexall Drugstore in the foreground. Like in so many other small towns across America, the drugstore was the hub of activity in downtown Goleta for decades.

So let’s start with another great photo. The oldest photo we have of the Goleta drugstore. Judging by the car, a Chevrolet Master, this is probably the late 1930s or early 1940s. Notice the big S & M sign on the roof and the little bell towers all along the top. We’ve seen bells on a few other Old Town buildings, so it must have been some sort of a theme.

This is the first we’ve ever seen of the S&M Cut Rate Market. Looks like all the employees are out on the curb for this photo. And to the right is the drug store, before it had a fancy Rexall sign. This is right after a young upstart bought the drugstore and he was ready to make his mark in Goleta. The new owner would eventually expand the drugstore to take over the market’s space and he would do business in this location for nearly 5 decades.

This is the determined looking young man that bought the drugstore. His name was Charles Vincent Eckert Jr.

Charles was born in 1910 in St. Louis, Missouri and he moved to California with his family in 1919. Shown here in 1920 with his father, who was also a pharmacist, Charles would get the nickname “Chili”, and that would stick with him for his whole life. By 1926 he and his family made their way to Santa Barbara.

When they got to Santa Barbara, his father bought a drugstore at the corner of Milpas and Montecito Street and called it the Montecito Pharmacy. This is where Chili did his apprenticeship to become a pharmacist. At this time, you were allowed to become a pharmacist through apprenticeship.

Our friend Neal Graffy provided us with a cool matchbook from the Montecito Pharmacy that states, “Your druggist is more than a merchant”.

In 1935, Chili bought this Goleta drugstore at the corner of Hollister and Magnolia. In the phone book the address was just, “near Goleta Union School”. Eckert bought the store from a gentleman known as Bruce the Druggist. Judging by the sign, it was just called the Goleta Pharmacy at this point, and also because of the sign, it appears they were very proud to be selling Enterprise Ice Cream! Notice the black chairs lined up at the soda fountain where you could get a malted milk for 10 cents or a sundae for 15 cents. The wall behind him features a mural of a Mediterranean scene and the shelves are full with a variety of things like razorblades, ointments, salves, Copenhagen snuff and cigars. To the right, you can see the pharmacy and in front of that, a full magazine rack. Notice the magazines piled on the floor?

True Story magazine from April 1936, featuring little Shirley Temple. So that gives us a pretty exact date for this photo.

Three years later, Chili was ready to renew his lease. A single page document.

Three more years with an option for another three, to be used as a drug store only. No liquor sales allowed!

Eckert was locked in at $50 a month for the first year and $60 a month for the following two years. At this time, the shop was 800 square feet, but that would soon change.

With a solid lease in place, Chili was ready for a long career in Goleta. He later said, “it looked like a good opportunity” to open a store in Goleta in 1935. He was right. For the first few years it was a one man show, Chili did it all by himself.

Chili Eckert soon expanded his drugstore into the former Cut Rate grocery next door. This provided him with more retail space and a more spacious lunch counter. The corner drugstore was a gathering place back in these days, where folks met and shared the latest news and gossip. Pictured here are Mary and Tony Pagliotti in the foreground and the guy behind them looks an awful lot like a young Frank Sinatra, but it’s actually another nice Italian named Joe Mastagni.

Right away Eckert was very active in the local community. He was charter member of the Goleta Rotary Club, and he was Santa Claus in 1940.

Sitting outside the drugstore we find another Pagliotti, this is Annie. Notice the white arches behind her. Before long Chili would expand in this direction also, pushing the wall out closer to Magnolia Street to make use of the space that was under these arches. He would later move the front door from the corner, as seen here, to the center of the building, where it is today.

In 1942 a Japanese submarine shelled the oil fields at Ellwood. At this time, the majority of Goleta shared what was called a party line on their telephones. This meant when you made a call, other people could get on the line also and hear your conversation. (Learn more about that HERE.) There were a few professions that were allowed exclusive phone lines for privacy reasons, and pharmacists were one of them.

So immediately after the Japanese attack, the officials from the Ellwood oil field rushed in to use the private phone at the Goleta Pharmacy. Right after that, Chili called home and told his wife to put the kids in the basement and don’t open it for anyone but him!

With WWII came a Marine Base at the Goleta Airport and a whole bunch of young men to the streets of Goleta. Of course, they were frequent visitors to the lunch counter/soda fountain at the Goleta Pharmacy. One of them, a Marine Captain, told Eckert he had worked as a “Soda Jerk” at a soda fountain back in his hometown and he enjoyed it, so Chili gave him a part time job at his fountain.

When enlisted men came in to the busy counter and called out, “Hey Jerk, gimme a soda” they were stunned to see it was their commanding officer!

Eckert fully expected to be drafted into service during the war, but since he ran the only pharmacy in the vicinity of a major military air base, the government felt he could be of more use staying in the Goleta pharmacy.

Another service Eckert provided was photo developing, as seen by this 1944 order for glossy prints.

In the mid 1940s, Chili had two sons at his home on Turnpike Avenue, Butch and Chuck. The older son Chuck suffered from severe asthma attacks and medicine at that time didn’t help asthma sufferers very well. Even for a pharmacist’s son! Chili decided a change of atmosphere might help, so the Eckert family relocated to the back country.

They moved to a little house off of Paradise Road and his symptoms improved greatly. (They found out later that Chuck’s asthma was aggravated by a horsehair rug in their Turnpike house.)

While they lived up at Paradise, the boys attended a one room schoolhouse that was across the river at what is today Sage Hill campground. Rumor has it the schoolhouse still stands, but now it’s at the Paradise Campground.

Chili was an avid bowler, so while they lived in the back country, he would drive home after work, and then turn around and drive all the way back over the San Marcos Pass in the evening for his bowling tournaments at the Figueroa Bowl in Santa Barbara. Now that’s dedication! Luckily the Eckerts only lived in their mountain home for a year or so. By the end of the war, they had moved back into town.

This photo from the late 1940s shows the prominent Rexall sign in place. You can see that the drugstore had expanded and now shares the former grocery store space with Murray’s Liquors. The bell towers are still there, but the bells are gone. Also notice that the drugstore is now also a Greyhound Bus Stop. At one point in time they had a light outside the building that they would turn on when they needed the passing bus to stop for a passenger. The bus also stopped to pick up packages for delivery. In fact, in the early days of the Dos Pueblos Orchid Company, they used Greyhound buses to deliver their flowers, via the Goleta Pharmacy!

By the 1950s, Goleta Rexall was rocking. Goleta was growing and so was his business. Chili had expanded in both directions and his little store that started at 800 square feet was now over 4.000 and he had several employees. As you can tell by all the signage hanging behind him, Eckert was a salesman, and he frequently ran promotions and contests to keep the Goleta Rexall in the newspaper and on the public’s mind. Tom Giffin remembers that when he went to the doctor for a checkup, the appointment would end with the doctor giving him a poker chip good for one free ice cream at Chili’s Goleta Rexall.

Here’s a little blurb about a bicycle giveaway that made a couple Goleta kids real happy in 1954. Eldon Kelley (correct spelling) would use that bike to deliver newspapers around Goleta for years to come.

Here’s another nice shot from the same angle as the other photo, around the same time, mid 1950s. Some beautiful classic cars shown here, a Mercury and a Buick. Also the liquor store moved from next door to across the street and the name changed from Murray’s to Benny’s.

Once again, Neal has a cool matchbook from Benny’s Liquor. Lots of Goleta locals have fond memories of the great penny candy selection at Benny’s. One local remembers it was like a rite of passage when you were old enough to walk downtown to Benny’s with just a friend to get candy.

In 1955, Chili married his second wife Rusty. Pictured here on his wedding day are his son Butch, Chili, Rusty and Chili’s Aunt Sue.

Chili’s second wife was Imus Wolgamott, but friends knew her as Rusty. We’re guessing the nick name came from her hair color. Goleta being a small town, Rusty had known the Eckerts for years and she was a babysitter for Chili’s boys when they were young.

Rusty was one of the belles of Goleta and she had been in the running for Magnolia Queen a time or two. The Magnolia Festival was one of several precursors to today’s lemon Festival.

Eventually Rusty got a job working at the Rexall. Here she can be seen waiting on a customer while enjoying a cigarette, which was not unusual at the time. Also notice the sign behind her advertising the tiny “Pixie” camera that fits on your wrist. Cool!

In the late 1950s, the newly opened UCSB campus in Goleta brought a whole new crowd of customers to downtown and to the Rexall. Surely the cosmetic sales must have jumped with all the coeds in town. This is an ad from a UCSB yearbook.

At the end of the 1950s, Chili and his family moved into a beautiful new home in a brand new neighborhood in the Goleta foothills called Holiday Hill. Looks like they were one of the first!

This press release from 1961 has a lot of interesting things going on. It seems one of Chili’s employees, Lois Meyers, won a free car in a sales contest! But they didn’t call it a sales contest, they said she “stimulated interest in vitamins”. She was one of only 20 recipients nationally, and the only one in California. But this was the second time a Rexall Goleta employee won a free car! Quite a perk for working there. The contest was a promotional campaign for Super Plenamins.

Super Plenamins, it turns out, were the latest greatest multi-vitamins that Rexall was pushing.

The car was a SIMCA, a French car made by Fiat that had a few moments of popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

As a respected member of the community, Chili was often looked to for his opinion on current events. Here he was asked about the question of Goleta cityhood in way back in 1961.

Rusty was also very involved in the community and this 1961 story is about her work with a local adoption agency. True to 1960s form, this article refers to her only as, “Mrs. C.V. Eckert”.

Meanwhile the Goleta Rexall continued to thrive while Goleta went through a population explosion in the early 1960s.

So successful that Chili could afford to buy himself a sporty little Porsche.

Around this time, Chili got his pilot’s license and went partners with three other Goleta businessmen to buy an airplane. From then on, most Eckert family vacations were taken in this Beechcraft Bonanza. But it wasn’t just for pleasure. Chili also occasionally flew with various friends in the medical profession to help needy families at a free clinic in Mexico.

In 1962 Chili flew Polio vaccines up to Cuyama for a nationwide immunization program.

Unfortunately, Chili’s little airplane met a violent death in 1977, when a waterspout came up the slough and wreaked a little havoc.

By 1963, Eckert’s son Butch had graduated from the University of Arizona and he came to work at the Goleta Rexall as a pharmacist for nearly 20 years. Goleta native Tom Giffin says “before we had Google, we had Butch, he was the go-to-guy for all things chemistry”.

Which allowed Chili more time to bowl!

In 1963, the Eckerts decided to take out the lunch counter that had somewhat gone out of style. In its place they expanded their cosmetics department.

In 1970 Rusty was honored for her work with the local PTA. Unfortunately she was still just referred to as Mrs. Charles V. Eckert Jr.

In 1973, Chili was named the Grand Marshal for the Old Goleta Days Parade. He rode in Bob Mastagni’s wagon with Rusty, their daughter Melody and more extended family in the back. By this time Melody was also working in the store. A Goleta local remembers that when “Chili’s pretty daughter and her friends were running the store, that’s where you went to buy your smokes and whatever other excuse you could come up with to go there”!

In 1984, one year short of his 50th anniversary, Chili decided to throw in the towel. This article gives a pretty good explanation of why. What it didn’t mention was his failing health. In 1978 he had suffered a heart attack at work. He retired for a year and then came back to work until 1984. (This article has a few errors. It says he came to California in 1926, instead of 1919, and that he built his home on Holiday Hill in 1949, but it was actually 1957.)

Charles “Chili” Eckert passed away in 1987 at 76 years old. He was a hard working man that spent his whole life in customer service. As he put it, ” If you love what you do, you never have to work”.

Chili always carried this in his wallet, and he shared it with his children.

I was recently lucky enough to meet with Butch and Melody Eckert and we took a little walk, reminiscing about Old Town Goleta when it was just called Downtown Goleta. Butch has an amazing memory, and he shared stories and the names and dates to go along with them.

We even walked through the old Rexall and the memories came flooding back. Butch told me about the remodels, the multiple burglaries and even a structure fire!

Today the Rexall Goleta is the Family Discount store. This photo was taken from the same angle as the one we started this page with, and it shows how little Old Town has changed.

The telephone poles are gone, and the classic Rexall sign is gone, but it still exists…

It’s right across the street! Above Cindy’s Produce where Benny’s Liquors was. It was repurposed for a tanning salon in the 1980s and that name is still on there with their custom neon. But if you look close, you can see the old Rexall sign slowly being revealed by the peeling paint. Old Town Goleta, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sources: Butch Eckert, Melody Eckert, Tracy Mapes, Santa Barbara News Press, Goleta Sun, Valley Voice, UCSB, Adam Lewis, Neal Graffy, Tom Giffen, Bill Kelley

Read more about the Goodland’s roots at GoletaHistory.com


Written by tMo

Tom Modugno is a local business owner, surfer, writer, and community activist. He also runs GoletaHistory.com and GoletaSurfing.com

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  1. Great article that brings back some old SB memories. During the 50’s I recall Milpas Rexall was in a building just north of the Montecito Pharmacy site depicted in the photograph. The old pharmacy was probably razed to put the new building that housed Milpas Rexall. I believe there was a parking lot at the south (Montecito Street) side of the new building where the Montecito Pharmacy had been situated. Tony’s barber shop was in a small building on the north side of Milpas Pharmacy and I believe Percal’s Poultry was the first building/business on Montecito Street west of the parking lot.

  2. Omg, what an interesting story, I loved reading this article. I have tears after reading that he had to give up his pharmacy due to the increase in rent from outside sources – it reminds me of State Street and what happened there due to rent increases from outside sources…..

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