Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 4:05 pm | Fair 76º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Developers Spruce Up Historic Timbers Restaurant In Hopes of Making a Go of Troubled Property

Among revitalization plans for far-western Goleta location are an organic farm, market, restaurant — and respect for past

The Timbers Restaurant, closed for a decade at 10 Winchester Canyon Road in western Goleta, reportedly was built with wood from oil industry structures hit by a Japanese submarine during a World War II attack in 1942.
The Timbers Restaurant, closed for a decade at 10 Winchester Canyon Road in western Goleta, reportedly was built with wood from oil industry structures hit by a Japanese submarine during a World War II attack in 1942. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

The building stands strong and alone, a bit imposing but not enough to scare away the various owners who have tried but failed to keep Timbers Restaurant up and running on the western outskirts of Goleta.

Built in 1953, famously with oil-streaked timbers procured from the nearby Ellwood Pier, where a Japanese submarine shelled the oil platform a decade earlier during World War II, the restaurant has seen several iterations over the years. It’s also been intermittently empty — the state it’s maintained since 2005.

A new developer hopes to revitalize the property at 10 Winchester Canyon Road near Highway 101, planning an organic farm for hands-on vegetable picking, a local market, bakery, commercial kitchen and a reopening of the historic Timbers Restaurant.

Montecito resident Sandy Boyd of the former Fresh Choice Restaurant and Espresso Roma Café chains has a lease on the property, and he’s hired Jeremiah Higgins and his team at HJL Hospitality Advisors to get the job done.

Crews began cleaning up the old, vacant dining hall in March and have planted the 2½-acre farm, hoping to open the market in June and the restaurant this fall.

The prospect is exciting to Goleta residents but sounds all too familiar.

“It’s been sort of hot and cold over the years,” said Ron Nye, a longtime historian with the Goleta Valley Historical Society. “Every few years somebody would open it up or say they would. There’s been 100 ideas; it’s just so big.

“It’s a shame something profitable and useful to the community can’t be done. It’s a terrific building.”

Boyd and Higgins have accepted that challenge, and they hope locals will come on board, too.

                                                                 •        •        •

As the story goes, H.C. “Tex” Blankenship bought 20 acres of Ellwood land in 1953 with the intention of building a restaurant. Oil companies were leaving the area and giving away timber from the nearby platform, so Blankenship bought the wood.

The wood used to build the Timbers probably came from the oil pier, Nye said, but no evidence proves it was from the platform that was shelled in 1942 by a Japanese submarine, the first assault on the U.S. homeland since Pearl Harbor was attacked the year before.

Nye and other historians also haven’t been able to back up whether shrapnel remnants are visible inside the timber — another myth — or if its gigantic fireplace is actually made from stones from the Lake Cachuma Dam project, which was completed around the same time.

But the uniqueness of the architecture and materials has landed the building on a “historic resource” list in the City of Goleta’s general plan.

Timber that size — 12 inches by 15 inches — can’t be found anymore, Nye said, noting Blankenship’s vision of creating a theme park or roadside attraction.

“The fact that it used oil field piers in its construction ... that makes it significant because that was an important part of Goleta history,” Nye said. “A lot of Goletans worked in the oil fields.”

For whatever reason, Blankenship never opened his restaurant. He handed the reins over to Sam Velliotes and his family, who opened the Timbers in 1963.

At some point in the ’70s, the Timbers became a popular steakhouse called Ruby Begonia’s Roadhouse — kind of a “hippie hangout,” Nye said.

The restaurant reopened in 1985 as the Timbers, and business was booming when it was purchased 22 years ago by Hoosh Santa Barbara Real Estate Investments LLC, boasting an on-site café and catering company used by United Airlines.

The owner planned to build lodging nearby until the 9/11 terrorist attacks. United Airlines pulled out of the catering business after that, and the restaurant soon followed, closing in 2005.

The owner, who asked not to be named, has held onto the building ever since, understanding its architectural and historic value enough to not let anyone tear it down.

Over the years, he’s had several offers for the property but wasn’t interested in pursuing any of them.

He likes Boyd’s new concept and hopes it works out.

                                                                 •        •        •

Boyd, whose grandparents moved to Santa Barbara the year the Goleta shore was shelled, has had a lease on the Timbers building for a few years while toying with its possibilities.

He started the Fresh Choice Restaurant chain and still operates four locations, although at one point there were 20. His six Espresso Roma Cafés were born in Berkeley in 1980.

Boyd’s vision is to create a farm where you pick your own vegetables, and check out at a kiosk or purchase the produce from the market, roadside “barns” or stands, or from the restaurant. Cauliflower, kale, romaine lettuce, peas, pumpkins, squash, radishes and carrots are already growing.

A corresponding market will sell 100 percent local fare and drink, such as olive oils, honey, wine, beer, pistachios, avocados, citrus and more.

Kids could visit an on-site petting zoo, and barbecue grill pits are also in the works.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” said Higgins, a longtime restaurant and hospitality veteran who’s helped open more than three dozen restaurants, including local joints like Blush, Savoy and Tonic in Santa Barbara and Rooney’s Irish Pub in Orcutt.

He’s still searching for more local food, beer and wine vendors, and encourages any interested businesses to email him at [email protected].

The developers recognize what the Timbers means to the community and are happy to help preserve its charm.

Before long, they hope the Timbers Restaurant will once again bustle with activity and become a roadside attraction that finally lives up to its potential.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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