The Telephone Station
By Tom Modugno of Goleta History
Near the corner of Patterson and Hollister Avenue sits this quaint little building. With ornate window designs, fresh paint and a neat red tile roof, it resembles a proud senior citizen, all decked out in her Sunday Best. A well kept remnant from a simpler time that has never stopped being useful in one way or another, for over 80 years.
Today it’s the Pendulum Faire Clock Shop, repairing watches and clocks for Goleta folk. But it was originally built to help Goleta folk in a different way.
In the 1890s a newfangled machine called a telephone came to Goleta. It replaced the telegraph as the quickest way to communicate with someone that wasn’t standing right next to you.
The first phone in Goleta was at the Pettis General Store on Patterson Avenue. Soon after that, Frank Kellogg, above, had one installed in his creamery on Hollister Avenue.
Phone service in Goleta was provided by Sunset Telephone Company, a big company from Seattle that held a monopoly on local phone service.
As is often the case with a monopoly, the service was lacking, the charges were high, and customers were not pleased.
The phone was usually mounted on the kitchen wall about six feet above the floor. The phone company insisted on the elevated mounting height in order to keep children from playing with the phone. If the receiver was left off the hook, it would disable service to everyone on the party line. (The young lady pictured here is standing on furniture to reach.)
To make a call, you’d pick up the receiver and tell the operator who you wanted to call. There were so few phone users in the early days that the operator would recognize your voice right away. For incoming calls, you’d pick up the ringing phone and the operator would tell you who was calling before connecting you.
These phone operators were popularized in some 1960s TV shows such as Green Acres and most notably Ernestine from Laugh-In, who counted the “ringey-dingeys” while waiting for an answer.
The Sunset Company was despised by one and all. They charged so much to run new lines out to rural areas, some folks decided to do it themselves. This was a widespread problem across the nation and soon instruction manuals and the proper materials were made available to consumers.
Inevitably, some thrifty folks would cut corners wherever possible.
Wagon builder Fritz Maiers strung a private line from his Goleta shop to his La Patera shop in 1901, connecting the two villages for the first time. Many other Goletans ran their own lines as well.
Frank Kellogg’s son Elmer got so fed up with Sunset’s poor service and high cost that he ran his own private phone line from Santa Barbara to his Potter Farm in Goleta. Evidently it didn’t work out that well for him, because he later went back to Sunset. His redwood telephone poles were taken down and sat in a huge pile on his farm for years to come.
After years of enduring bad service and excessive fees from the Sunset Telephone Company, a group of wealthy Santa Barbara businessman decided to start their own phone service. They called it the Home Telephone Company. Poles were set up all around town, right next to the Sunset poles, and they were overwhelmed by requests for service. They soon had just as many customers as Sunset and they set up Goleta’s first phone exchange at Blakeway’s General Store on Carrillo Street in 1910. The Home Telephone Service ran lines all the way out to Naples and up San Marcos Road into the foothills of Goleta.
Unfortunately, this caused another problem. Businesses had to subscribe to both services to be available to all their customers. So while it offered another option, it almost doubled the cost for them. For citizens, it just confused matters of reaching someone on the phone. Additionally, Home couldn’t connect to long distance lines without Sunset’s permission, and that proved to be a difficulty they couldn’t overcome. Eventually Home gave up and they merged with Sunset and became the Santa Barbara Telephone Company. Around World War 1 they were absorbed by Associated Telephone, which later became the General Telephone Company.
By the 1920s, some technological advances had been made to simplify the calling process. This was a state of the art switching board in 1924.
Human operators were still required however. Goleta continued to grow and the number of phone subscribers did as well, which made it necessary for multiple operators.
Soon, everybody had a phone and telephone poles became a common sight, like these poles by the San Jose creek.
In 1939, Associated Telephone replaced the phone exchange on Carrillo Street with this state of the art Goleta Central Office on Patterson Avenue. Multiple operators worked each shift and they would route calls throughout the Goleta area. Judge Lillard’s wife, Mae Pickett Lillard, was one of the operators that worked here. She lived just around the corner on Chapel Street.
The brand new building was included on this rough map historian Owen O’Neill drew for the 1939 phone directory, labeled simply as “phone station”. This was about as much publicity as it ever got . Since it was strictly a utilitarian building, most folks hardly noticed it. Not many folks were allowed in, but Tom Giffin has a vague memory of a school field trip to the exchange building.
This was the brain of the Goleta phone system, with multiple operators connecting callers all the way until 1951.
When a new, modern Telephone facility was built and relocated all operations to San Marcos Road and Hollister Avenue.
After the new phone exchange was built, the little old building on Patterson continued to serve as a pawn shop, a locksmith and a watch repair shop. Judy Ensign remembers you could get keys made there in the 1950s.
Years later, developers were revamping the shopping center at that corner, but the owner of the Pawn Shop refused to sell out. They were forced to build the new Patterson Center around his little building. And so, history was saved.
Time continued to march into the future, where wonderful new and colorful phones awaited the consumer….
So the next time you’re cruising past this little building, or getting your clock fixed at Pendulum Faire, you’ll now know why it was built. To serve the people of Goleta, as it continues to do today.
On a personal note, when my family lived on Santa Barbara Shores in 1963, we had a party line. My mother, shown here holding a baby me, got grief from her neighbors because I enjoyed picking up the phone and blabbering baby talk while folks were trying to have a conversation! Ah the good old days….)
Sources: Walker Tompkins, Justin Ruhge, Erin Graffy, Judy Ensign, Donna Lane, Tim Lillard