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Goleta Council Urged to Preserve Historic Gas Station

Group wants Barnsdall-Rio Grande structure to be declared a landmark; city says it is working on a historic-resources ordinance

Goleta Resident John Kalstrom holds a sketch of the Barnsdall-Rio Grande Gas Station, drawn by his mother-in-law, Jan Bisol, in 1976. Kalstrom was one of several speakers who showed up Tuesday to support the gas station being designated as a historic landmark at the Goleta City Council meeting.
Goleta Resident John Kalstrom holds a sketch of the Barnsdall-Rio Grande Gas Station, drawn by his mother-in-law, Jan Bisol, in 1976. Kalstrom was one of several speakers who showed up Tuesday to support the gas station being designated as a historic landmark at the Goleta City Council meeting. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The framed drawing of the Barnsdall-Rio Grande Gas Station that John Kalstrom showed to Goleta City Council members on Tuesday looks almost exactly like the historic station looks today, even though the drawing was created in 1976.

The drawing, made by artist Jan Bisol, Kalstrom's late mother-in-law, shows the historic station at the western end of Hollister Avenue surrounded by weeds and with window panes missing. 

Kalstrom and about 20 other people showed up Tuesday to ask the council to move the gas station beyond that depiction of disrepair and neglect.

The effort was spearheaded by Goleta resident Tom Modugno, who presented 2,600 signatures of like-minded people from an online petition that asks the council to consider designating the structure as a historic landmark.

The station was built in 1929 and is considered the last of the Pearl Chase-inspired fuel stations, a project that the legendary Santa Barbara civic leader took on as a beautification effort.

The Goleta City Council was urged Tuesday to take steps to preserve the historic Barnsdall-Rio Grande Gas Station on Hollister Avenue in western Goleta. (Photo courtesy of GoletaHistory.com)

The building is loaded with Spanish colonial revival architectural touches.

The station sits near the Ellwood Oil Field, which was extremely productive in the early part of the 20th century, but the building was abandoned by the 1950s.

The Ellwood area is rife with history, and is the site of a Japanese submarine attack during World War II, the only mainland attack during that war.

The station now backs up to the Sandpiper Golf Course, owned by Ty Warner, so any changes would ultimately be up to him.

Several people spoke during public comment on Tuesday, urging the city to create an ordinance to designate historic landmarks within city limits.

"It's an important part of our history," said Tom Smith, an architect and Goleta resident. "It's sad to see it sitting there, moldering away."

Modugno called the response to the online petition "overwhelming," and since then, people have offered everything from free labor to rehabilitate the building to cash donations.

The area symbolizes Goleta's unique character, and that "we're not just a suburb of Santa Barbara or overflow parking from Isla Vista," he said.

After the meeting, a group of supporters chatted in the city parking lot, and how to reinvent the building was a topic of conversation, with people throwing out ideas like preserving it as museum to the Ellwood Oil Fields, to a coffee shop, to an electric vehicle recharging station and bike welcome center for touring cyclists passing through the area.

Council members listened to the comments, but did not address the issue, other than Mayor Paula Perotte, who stated, "We will look into it."

City spokeswoman Valerie Kushnerov said that the city does plan to work on a historic resource ordinance and staff is doing preliminary research to that end.

The city's general plan lists local historic structures that were previously designated as landmarks by Santa Barbara County prior to Goleta becoming a city in 2002, Kushnerov said.

"Maintenance and upkeep of any structure that is located on private property is the responsibility of the property owner," she said. "However, the city shares the concerns expressed in recent news articles associated with demolition by neglect of historic resources and would support rehabilitation of historic resources."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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