World War II brought a lot of changes to our world, and Goleta was no exception. Our little airport served as the backdrop for a Marine air station that served as a training base for multiple squadrons that went on to support combat operations in the Pacific Theater. This sleepy little agriculture village was abruptly invaded by the United States Marines in 1942, and the work they did in a few short years changed Goleta forever.

SB airport today2

This is how things look today. The ever expanding UCSB at the top and the Santa Barbara Airport at the bottom. The size of the airport and the location of the university are both direct results of the U.S. Marine base.


This photo from 1938 shows how things looked a few years before before the war. The red arrow points to downtown Goleta. The white arrow shows the single runway of the earliest stages of the airport. The green arrow points to a complete Mescaltitlan Island.  The slough was still a large lagoon of sorts, and the mesa that holds UCSB was farmland.

Santa Barbara airport election

As tensions in the world increased, the United States Government established a program to construct airports across the country on a cost-sharing basis with local governments. Since Goleta already had a little airfield with a lot of empty land around it, it seemed a natural for expansion. Thomas M. Storke, editor and publisher of the News Press, used his influence to secure Santa Barbara’s enrollment in the government program.


In 1941, construction began on the new Santa Barbara Municipal Airport. A  portion of Mescaltitlan Island was used as fill dirt to turn the marshlands of the slough into runways and a beautiful Spanish style terminal was built to service commercial air customers.


After we entered the war, the United States Army began building concrete revetments, seen on the lower left, and they stationed fighter planes at the airport. The Navy sent the first Marines to Goleta in 1942 and they petitioned the government to make it a Marine base. They chose Goleta because the climate allowed year round training and because an airfield was already in place. 


Tents were set up as temporary barracks on the dry, high ground at the northeast end of the airport. Drinking water had to be trucked in from town.first Goleta marines


The two old General Western hangars were used for additional barracks and a mess hall.  A temporary station headquarters was set up in the old terminal building and for squadron areas they used the former Army revetments.hangars

The old terminal in the middle has been demolished, but the two original hangars still stand today near the corner of Hollister and Fairview, patiently awaiting restoration.

MCAS SB - Rain

Things were pretty rough for the first Marines. High tides and heavy rains flooded the landing field with mud, so four-wheel drive Jeeps were required to get around the base. Mosquitoes were abundant and a constant nuisance.  The Marines nicknamed the station “The Swamp” and a standing joke among the pilots was to request permission to land on Santa Barbara Lake.

A problem the airport built on a slough still has to this day….

hog farm

Another thing that made life difficult for the first Marines was the stench and flies coming from a thriving hog farm and slaughterhouse on Fairview Avenue. The prevailing winds blew the not so fresh aroma straight at their temporary living quarters. The white arrow shows the hog farm and the red arrow shows the two old hangars in this photo from the 1930’s. The hog farm suffered a mysterious fire, and was soon after removed to make more room for the base.20

The station was initially equipped with only a few aircraft and at least half were bi-planes. Older planes like this PT-17 Stearman were used for local patrols and some of the old aircraft were fitted with depth charges to defend against another submarine attack. The Japanese sub attack on the oil fields at Ellwood in February of 1942 kept the base on a very high alert. A complete blackout was maintained at night and lookouts were on duty 24/7. The primitive base had many foxholes, gun emplacements, and barbed wire barriers in case of a Japanese land assault.1945

In August of 1942 the Marine HQ moved out of the old terminal and into the beautiful new United Airlines terminal. Goleta was unique in that the military shared airfields and the terminal with the commercial airport.headline1

This headline announced the decision in May, 1942 and the airfield was officially commissioned by the Marines on December 4, 1942 as the Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara. A lease agreement of $2,600 a year was made with the city of Santa Barbara for the airport property, but the fee was never paid.Goleta control tower

Another unique thing about the Marine base at Goleta was the control tower was shared with the commercial airport. In fact, civilians remained the air traffic controllers for both commercial and Marine flight operations for the duration of the base.1942 map

This map shows just a portion of the huge expanse of land that was confiscated to make the existing airport an operational Marine base. The government used eminent domain to confiscate over 70 properties in one swipe and they paid only $80,000 for all of it!property list

Here is the 1942 land transfer record found by historian Adam Lewis in the County records office. It names all the parties that were forced to sacrifice their land for the cause.

mesc island

In times of war, things like historic sites and the environment are of little concern. Defending our nation is the top priority and the ends justify the means. The existing runways needed to be expanded for the military aircraft, so more of the slough was filled in with dirt from Mescaltitlan Island (circled) and from the bluffs of Isla Vista.Mescaltitlan Island

Mescaltitlan Island fill dirt was harvested without any second thoughts about all the prehistoric artifacts the heavy machinery was cutting through. When they were done, about half the island was gone.

Marine base Goleta map

This 1942 site plan shows some extent of the development done by the Marines during their short stay in Goleta. The Navy hired a civilian contractor from Los Angeles to do most of the construction. The government provided unlimited money and materials to complete the project ASAP.


A railroad spur was built to ease the delivery of the massive amounts of materials and machinery needed to build the base as quickly as possible. Time was of the essence.Goleta railroad spur

A platform was built on the spur and tons of supplies were delivered to facilitate the round-the-clock construction of the base. The platform remained and was used for supply deliveries throughout the war.train track3

This railroad spur still exists and is being used to this day by Hayward Lumber.

train track5

Most folks that visit Hayward Lumber have no idea this old track was built for the Marine base.

04-Enlisted man barracks 1943

Life got a little easier for the Marines with the construction of new living quarters. Due to the marshy slough surrounding the air base, the operations and the housing had to be widely separated.barracks2

The barracks, mess halls, chapels, theaters, laundry, administration buildings and other facilities were built on the mesa above the slough. Over 100 wooden buildings were built by mid 1943. Some taxpayers moaned about the frills being built, like the Olympic sized swimming pool and the fancy Officers Club, but the Navy ignored the critics. barracks1

These buildings would later lay the groundwork for the University, as many were easily converted into classrooms.