Save the Original Two Santa Barbara Airport Hangars

By Tom Modugno of Goleta History

A lot of folks don’t know that Santa Barbara and Goleta have a very rich aviation history. Today, the city of Santa Barbara has a rare opportunity to put that history on display, and it is just sitting in a corner of their airport.

Since 1931, two airplane hangars have served the community and contributed to aviation history in a number of different ways. For nearly 100 years, they have also been neglected and taken for granted. Yet they manage to remain standing. It is very rare for a modern airport to still have their first hangars still existing, but that could end any day now.

I’ve been working with a group of folks for years now, trying to save the hangars by going through the proper political channels. So far, we have gotten nothing but lip service.

According to the new Santa Barbara City Historic Resources Ordinance, the hangars cannot be demolished or moved without defensible findings. But right now, the city is in violation of its own Ordinance by allowing, “demolition by neglect”. While any kind of restoration and future use would be welcome, it is very important historically that they remain in their current location. That is where the two young pilots landed and started a flying school in 1928. That’s the birthplace of the airport.

Time is running out, so I decided to throw it out there and see who else wants to try to help get the politicians motivated. I submit to the public this petition, a simple way to express whether or not you think these historic buildings justify the effort and resources required to save them. 

If you want more info on the history of the hangars and why they are eligible to be included in the National Register of Historic Places — please go to www.goletahistory.com, click on the Menu, and search HANGARS. Several pages have information about them. If you don’t deem them worthy of the effort, that’s your choice. If you do, please sign the petition, share it with your friends and send the council a friendly letter of encouragement. 

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Written by tMo

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

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27 Comments

    • Yeah, it’s really sad that History isn’t always “Beautiful”? I signed the above “Petition”, some of the comments on said petition are rather on point. ie.
      “We don’t get history back once we let it be erased. Too many of the historical buildings in Santa Barbara have already been lost to time. Let’s not let it happen here. And I would also note the pending demolition of one of the remaining WWII hangars in favor of a parking lot. These vandals must be stopped!”
      not necessarily the best example but…

  1. If we can save them, present and future generations will have a rare local treasure. Even standing near them it’s easy to hear echoes of so many who contributed to this country being the world leader in aviation. If you ever get the chance to go inside one of them, the connection with our region’s many aeronautical pioneers is palpable. Thanks for all the effort you have and continue to put into this noble effort, Tom. I hope people, organizations and politicians will join together and preserve these rare remaining icons of our aerospace beginnings. Unlike the local beach where Lockheed got its start, we have these physical hangars standing as a focal point. Museum, meeting space, cafe, education and training center, maybe even a restored Corsair fighter on display. Another major attraction for Goleta and the region. All could be done without taxpayer funds, while in fact generating tax dollars.

  2. I think the history of aviation in Santa Barbara is fascinating and important and should be remembered. However, these two buildings would require many millions of dollars to rehab them and put in supporting infrastructure, and for what? I doubt any aviation museum would be a big enough attraction to be able to afford even the maintenance and upkeep on those hangars. Plus, the airport is not good at managing their real estate assets – I am looking at you, Elephant Bar! I just don’t see it happening, sorry Tom.

  3. I say this as someone who has been involved professionally in aviation for nearly my entire adult life, and has spent countless days at small airports flying and wrenching on planes – not everything old is historic. If the best that can be said about these structures are that if you can stand near them it’s “easy to hear echoes of so many who contributed to this country being the world leader in aviation” – yeah I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t seem to clear the hurdle of what is historic to me. Imagining that stuff happened a long time ago inside a structure is not historic preservation. Also – the author cites a new ordinance for the City of Santa Barbara – these structures are in Goleta. Furthermore (I say this as someone who lives in a house that has been designated a historic resource, so I’m familiar with the process) – unless these structures have been deemed a historic resource, this ordinance would not apply – jurisdiction aside. As best as I can tell, you’re conferring legal status on structures that have not gone through the actual process of being designated historic.
    If you folks want to save these hangars, raise the funds from private donors and purchase them from the airport authority. Set fire to your own money, pretty please.

  4. The airport was SO important in WWII. Maybe a little aviation museum in at least one saved hangar. It is a great to teach kids history, let alone local history.
    I would also encourage to save the old water tower platform on Gaviota coast that was the site of a German POW camp. The prisoners would work on local ranches. Nice place to be imprisoned!
    There used to be a glass window inside the old Copper Coffee Pot restaurant where you could see the original adobe bricks from the building that was there. I went in the other day and the remodel has covered that. More history disappearing.
    I am sad to see the posts encouraging tearing things down.

  5. The Airport property IS historic. It was the Marine / Army Air Corp training site for the famous Corsair fighter from WWII.(There is even a Corsair propeller across from Fire Station 8). The airport in the 1950’s was also one of a few “airport racetracks” in Southern California. Even James Dean raced his Porsche 550 Spyder here… If they preserve the hangers, perhaps the City could have one hanger for a Corsair and one for ’50’s era race cars that used to tear up the tarmac…

  6. Wish I could [post a photo here. Squadron list of names/ranks/jobs/some home towns..
    Joe Foss at the top of the list. Hidden in a wall…. Covered up. NOT in those hangars, but an example of stuff lost to time.
    As far as the boneyard hangars, to far gone to be saved in my opinion. I have spent some time in them, and it IS easy to get a feeling of the past, but so much has been lost already. The feeble airport museum couldn’t pay the rent years ago, so all the collected stuff went to Camarillo.

  7. I’m not sure how common it is to preserve old hangars for the purpose of preserving history, but it is a fact that history is and can be preserved by repurposing structures into something more useful and profitable. Perhaps these hangars could be restored and used as a restaurant and events hall. It would take a lot of fixing up and some creative decorating, but it seems that a community like Santa Barbara would be able handle it. I don’t think there would be any trouble getting patrons considering that this community has a sizeable number of wealthy aviation and history enthusiasts as well as visitors from all over the world.

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