Historic gas station set for restoration

The Barnsdall-Rio Grande gas station.
The Barnsdall-Rio Grande gas station.
Leo Quinkert

In early 2024, billionaire Ty Warner announced plans to remodel the Sandpiper Golf Course. Included in this plan is the renovation and restoration of the historic Barnsdall-Rio Grande gas station. The building will be brought up to modern safety standards and will be restored as closely as possible to the original exterior appearance, using as much of the original material as possible. Electric bicycle chargers will be installed where the gas pumps were when the station was in operation. Inside, the building will have a display showing the history of the area around Sandpiper Golf Course. In addition to the restoration, there are building plans for a cafe, covered seating area, and parking lot.

The Barnsdall-Rio Grande Oil Co. gas station was originally built in 1929. At the time, the area that is now the Sandpiper Golf Course was the Ellwood Oilfield. In 1929, the Ellwood Oilfield was one of the most productive oil fields in the world. The Barnsdall-Rio Grande gas station was built as part of an effort to beautify the Santa Barbara area organized by famous architect Pearl Chase. This gas station was built by Los Angeles company Morgan, Walls, and Clements in the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style.

The gas station gainedgained significance on Feb. 23, 1942, when Japanese submarine I-17 fired several rounds at the Ellwood Oilfield. It was the first attack on the mainland United States during World War II, and some of those rounds passed directly over the gas station.

The gas station continued to be used until the 1950’s, when it was closed. The closure was due to the 1947 completion of the rerouting of Highway 101. Previously, Hollister Avenue was the 101. It was reopened for a short while in the early 1970’s, permanently closing by 1972. After closure, the gas station fell into disrepair. A fence was erected sometime before 1979 to protect the gas station from vandalism.

In January 2015, the website goletahistory.com started a petition with the goal of preserving and restoring the gas station. The petition was successful, and brought attention to the gas station. Ty Warner agreed to donate the gas station to the city of Goleta, but that deal was turned down because if the city accepted they would never be able to shut down the offshore oil drilling near Goleta. The gas station then sat abandoned for the next 9 years, with the windows and doors being boarded up around 2020.

The future location of the cafe. (Leo Quinkert)

East of the gas station, a 695-square-foot cafe will be constructed. The cafe will be in the same Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style as the gas station. An open seating area will be constructed west of the station, and a small 14-space parking lot will be built in the area.

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