Santa Barbara Airport Terminal

A mere 13 years after Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, aviation came to Santa Barbara in a big way. The Loughead (later renamed Lockheed) Aircraft Company opened an aircraft manufacturing plant on lower State Street and began offering flying lessons off the wharf. As aviation grew, it became apparent to Gordon Sackett and Royce Stetson that a larger, land-based airfield was called for, so in 1928 they leased a cow pasture just to the west of the small community of Goleta and put in a 3,000’ dirt runway. In 1932, Century Pacific Airways established the first commercial flights from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, charging $9.81 for a round trip (equivalent to $144.78 in 2006 dollars). Then in 1936, United Airlines (which accounted for 35% of all air travel in the U.S. at the time) established service to Santa Barbara. The early 1940s saw the City of Santa Barbara purchase 580 acres of land at the present airport site and United Airlines build what is now the core of our passenger terminal.

Edwards and Plunkett were commissioned to design the airport terminal, a portion of which is shown here. Recognizing that many travelers consider Santa Barbara Airport the “front door” of Santa Barbara, it was only natural for them to employ the Spanish architectural motif that had taken root in the downtown area after the earthquake. The tower and its integral circular stair were originally used as the entry to the second-floor waiting room. The third floor of the tower was an all-glass observation room. One can only imagine how the adventuresome scrambled up the tiny stair to observe planes coming and going in those early days of flight. Sometime after the early 1960s, the third floor was enclosed, and the metal (false) deck we see here was added. The airport has gone through almost continuous remodeling and has taken on the character of a small, architecturally diverse village.