Op-Ed: Open Letter to the Santa Barbara City Council to Save the Hangars

Goleta Hangars (Photo: GoletaHistory.com)

By Tom Modugno, Goleta History and Santa Barbara Aviation Historical Preservation Coalition (SBAHPC)

As you probably know by now, the historic two original hangars at the airport are technically in the city of Santa Barbara. Next week, on April 30th at 2 PM, the Santa Barbara City Council will meet to decide the future of these buildings.

Local historians have been trying for years to get the city to do something about their horrible condition before they collapse. It appears we may finally be close to actually seeing some progress. If you don’t know the history, here is a link to that: https://goletahistory.com/two-hangars/

If you would like to send an email to the city council regarding these hangars, we encourage you to send your thoughts to – Clerk@SantaBarbaraCA.gov

Here is what I sent. Feel free to steal whatever you would like, but it’s best put in your own words. Our future generations will thank you.

Dear Mayor Rowse and Council Members,

My name is Tom Modugno, a small business owner in Santa Barbara and Goleta and a local history enthusiast. I run the website GoletaHistory.com and I’ve done a few stories about the two original hangars at the Santa Barbara airport over the years.

 Even though I have lived in Goleta my whole life, I didn’t learn of the existence of these hangars until 2014, when Noozhawk published a story saying they were going to be demolished. The article said they were WWII era hangars, but I soon found out they had a vibrant life well before the war. Immediately I went to the airport and found them. Hiding in plain sight for decades was the genesis of Santa Barbara airport.

The article quoted an airport official saying that even though the hangars were qualified to be added to the National Registry of Historic Places, it would be too expensive to do that.

Immediately I published a story about the hangars, making public the directions to go see them and documenting their long, useful history. The response was unexpectedly overwhelming. Now, ten years later, that original story continues to generate enthusiasm from people wanting to know what they can do to save the hangars, offering to help, financially or with manual labor, or whatever. Not just individuals, but several historic groups in town have expressed their interest in being involved in the effort to save them. I later started a petition called Save The Hangars and it currently has over 900 signatures.

So, while these hangars are very important historically, they are also important to our community. People want to see them restored to their former glory and they would love to be able to visit them and learn more about the early days of aviation and how this airport played a major role in the development of the Santa Barbara-Goleta area.

Very few, if any, modern airports still have the original hangars that started their airport still standing in their original location. Because Hangars 248 and 249 served so many purposes for nearly a century, they were never relocated. This is a very rare occurrence and a unique gift to us today. Local historians agree that it is imperative that they are restored where they stand today, the same spot that in 1928, two brave young aviators landed their primitive aircraft in a cow pasture on the edge of a slough. When they scraped out a temporary dirt landing strip in this location, they planted the seed not only for a thriving municipal airport, but also a Marine Base for WWII, which in turn provided the foundation for today’s University of California at Santa Barbara. These two hangars are the existing physical evidence of those two pilot’s legacy.

This is an opportunity for Santa Barbara Airport to add something unusual and financially rewarding to their property. While we all know saving these hangars will be a long hard task to accomplish, we should also know it will be beneficial to the airport, to the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta, to the community at large, and most importantly, it will be a valuable asset for our future generations.

We hope you will now partner with a qualified non profit organization and allow them to move forward with the preservation process. We know of at least one that is ready and willing to take the reins and get started, ASAP. As we all know, time is of the essence. The hangars have been neglected for far too long, and work needs to begin as soon as possible. There have been more than enough studies and reports done, let’s get this done!

This is a Golden Opportunity, and we all hope that you will be willing to see this through to the final goal of restoration and reopening the original two hangars. You will be remembered for your efforts.

Photo: GoletaHistory.com

Op-Ed’s are written by community members, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the author’s.
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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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    • Maybe not much actual cost to the City and probably some income, S.C. Many of us will volunteer. Some will surely continue to donate. Civic minded corporations and businesses will probably provide support too. Once usable the hangars would have many potential historical uses, many of which have been suggested by Tom and others.

      Right now it’s all about the City giving a green light. In the unlikely event it doesn’t come together in a timely manner, the City can always bulldoze our heritage and put in a parking lot.

  1. Cost v. Investment, and Expense v. Value come to mind in terms of this topic. How much do citizens care about investment in the value of community on the South Coast?
    I believe there’s a Corsair at the Camarillo aviation history museum that would do an occasional flyby/visit, and the massive Chino museum has at least one that could stop going to and from their planned Santa Maria Airport extension museum. Plenty of aerospace here, along with youth outreach aviation & STEM programs. Is it difficult to imagine the restored hangars being a focal point for these and countless other regional activities and interests?

    • The General Western hangars themselves aren’t significantly historic as simple structures, but the rich history they represent is what’s at stake here. Old hangars rarely remain, and generally have no real significant history. The SB hangars on the other hand created the airport that exists today, helped in the war effort and assisted in the growth of the UCSB university, just to name a few. The growth of the area and the economy can be attributed to to these two hangars as well.
      In their original location since 1931, in an un-used section of the airfield, they can once again serve the community and stand proud of their historical heritage.

      • Well stated, HPC. Having strolled in them some years ago, I somewhat disagree on their historic significance. Their construction really marks the very start of SBA as we know it today. The very construction and all the different uses over their many decades have left traces. Even as they’re been allowed to deteriorate. I hope they’re rescued, and means are found to preserve marks of all the decades they’ve endured there.

  2. SB has a great SBA history movie to show at the hangars. Found it just now seeking more about Lindbergh’s visits to our area. Just started watching, and already so many fascinating stories & photos! Great low altitude aerial the Lougheeds (aka Lockheed Corp.) took of the Flying A, showing the building I first knew as The Green Dragon. Here’s the movie link: https://youtu.be/0IZ27WZsAQA

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