Soldiers inspect damage to oil pier at Ellwood following bombardment by a Japanese submarine in 1942. (Courtesy photo)

At 7:15 p.m. on Feb. 23, 1942, a submarine sitting off the Santa Barbara coast shelled the Ellwood Oil Field near Goleta. In commemoration of that event, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum (SBMM) will present They Came, They Saw, They Shelled, a Zoom webinar featuring noted local historian Neal Graffy, 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 17.

Neal Graffy

Neal Graffy

The webinar is free, but registration is required, and donations are welcome. Register at

Just two months and 16 days after the attack at Pearl Harbor — and during one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats — the I-17, a Japanese submarine, surfaced in the Santa Barbara Channel and shelled the oil facilities at Ellwood.

Although the attacked caused only about $500 worth of damage, the bombardment is significant because it was the first time since the War of 1812 that the US mainland was attacked by a foreign power. Another interesting fact is that among the few things that were damaged was a pump house, whose door is now on display in the Ellwood exhibit on the second floor of the Maritime Museum.

The sub may have fired only 25 shells and caused minimal damage, but it set off widespread panic up and down the California coast.

Graffy’s presentation will mark the 80th anniversary of that incident and reveal the rich history of Ellwood, the mission of the I-17, and the legend of an act of revenge by the sub’s commander over an incident with a cactus.

Graffy’s talk also will cover the post-war untold history of the Timbers Restaurant, which has a surprising connection to the Ellwood shelling. What was “Tex” Blankenship thinking in 1953 when he built a 9,600-square-foot restaurant on 21 acres, eight miles from Santa Barbara, virtually in the middle of nowhere?

The answer surprisingly came in a clue from several old-timers: “… find a red-haired waitress named Red.” The discovery of “Red” and interviews with the Blankenship family and several of the men who built The Timbers provide a delightful conclusion to the Ellwood story.

Since giving his first slide-show talk on local history in 1989, Graffy has given more than 400 presentations on 22 different topics. His expertise has been sought out by local, state, and national radio and TV. He has authored numerous monographs for historical organizations, as well as articles in regional and national publications, three local history books, and co-authored a series of historical fiction novels taking place in the early 1900s.

Graffy has been featured in several documentaries including the Emmy Award-winning “Impressions in Time;” appeared on Huell Howser’s “California Gold,” KCET TV’s “Life and Times,” and “This Old House.”

“Delightfully unfettered by convention” pretty much sums up Neal Graffy’s approach to history. Whether it be in print, radio, television, documentary or live, his audiences always find his presentations to be entertaining, fun, and still educational,” according to

Graffy has served on the boards of the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society, Santa Barbara Historical Museum, and Mission Canyon Association, has been a member and chairman of the Santa Barbara County Landmarks Commission, registrar of Marks and Brands, and sheriff of the Santa Barbara Corral of Westerners.

The SBMM event is sponsored by Marie L. Morrisroe.

SBMM is at the Santa Barbara Harbor, 113 Harbor Way, Ste. 190, Santa Barbara. Visit or call 805-962-8404 for more.