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Saving the Barnsdall Gas Station

“The only thing more destructive to historical landmarks than a bulldozer is procrastination on the part of preservationists.”

Walker A. Tompkins, historian

disrepairIt’s still there. Right where it’s been since 1929, when oil rich executives decided to build a showpiece filling station to celebrate the wild success of their Ellwood oil field and to do it in a style that would please Pearl Chase.

barnsdall 1

They spared no expense and hired an exclusive architecture firm to build a exquisite building in the Spanish colonial revival style.

fancy signIt won several awards and was a successful business for decades, until the rerouting of the highway isolated it from traffic. By the early 1950’s, the station was closed to the general public.


So there it sat, unused and abandoned, but not unnoticed.

bb9Throughout the years, generations of folks enjoyed the beauty of the little building and wondered what the future would hold for it.


In January of 2015, Goleta History started a petition to preserve the Barnsdall gas station. The response was overwhelming. This building means a lot of things to a lot of different people, and they were very passionate about it. Nearly 3,000 signatures were quickly collected, hundreds of citizens offered to help with the restoration and people came out of the woodwork with ideas and plans they had for the building.  If you take the time to read some of the comments on the petition, it’s a lot of fun. The petition got a lot of media attention, from local papers to NPR. In February, 2015, we presented the petition to the Goleta city council and several citizens spoke eloquently on behalf of the structure.


On June 11th, 2015, that same city council called a media press conference to proudly announce that they had worked out a deal to save the historic gas station for future generations.

Beanie billionaire Ty Warner, owner of the Sandpiper Golf Course and the gas station, had generously agreed to donate the building and one acre of land to the city of Goleta. He was thanked and praised and everyone celebrated a great victory. Unfortunately that didn’t work out due to some fine print in the title to the property. Learn more about that HERE.


The years flew by and we continued to wait and wonder when Ty Warner and the city of Goleta will find a way to save this iconic structure.

Well, it appears the time has come to try again! Mr. Warner would like to remodel the whole Sandpiper golf course and saving the Barnsdall station is included in his plan.

The new plan completely restores the original building inside and out, bringing it up to modern codes for earthquake, etc., while using as much of the original material as possible. Inside the building will be a historic exhibit with photos and the story of the building and the surrounding area. ( We all know there is plenty of history there.)  Additionally, they want to build a small coffee shop next-door with a large garage type door that will be open to the public. A new parking lot will be built to the east of the station and a large covered public seating area will be to the west of the station.

The folks at Sandpiper recognized that their current snack bar is very popular with bicyclists, so they’ve decided to make this new café very bike friendly to encourage that. There will be multiple bike racks all around and where the old gas pumps used to be there will now be electric bike charging stations.

Further improvements include building a sidewalk along Hollister, putting all the existing powerlines underground and building a new crosswalk to allow easy access to the neighborhood across the street. All in all, a very generous offer made by Ty Warner to save this historic structure.

Barnsdall today

The best part of this offer is Mr. Warner is offering to pay for 100% of it. We all know that if the city had accepted his donation years ago, they would still be struggling to find the funding to restore it. This avoids that whole problem.

This plan will be presented to the city of Goleta Historic Preservation Committee for review this Monday, April 15, 2024, at 5:30 P.M., City Hall, Council Chambers, 130 Cremona Drive, Suite B.

If you care about finally saving this historic structure, come to the meeting or send an email to [email protected]

Let’s save this important piece of Goleta history once and for all.

“The only thing more destructive to historical landmarks than a bulldozer is procrastination on the part of preservationists.”    Walker A. Tompkins

Thanks to Ben Burkhalter and Patti Gutshall for images.

Categories: Goleta History

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Tom Modugno

10 replies

  1. This wasn’t exactly made as a celebration of the success of the Ellwood field, although that surely helped make it. This is the last remaining example of the oil companies’ response to Pearl Chase’s challenge to them to make filling stations more attractive. The oil companies got into a competition to outdo one another on who could create the most aesthetic architecture and the results were actually rather amazing. From Montecito to Ellwood, there were a bunch of stations crafted with Spanish red tile roofs and architecture – all vying for the prize of aunt Pearl’s praise. This worked out well for everyone. The oil companies were seen as being mindful of aesthetics, the people enjoyed them, and aunt Pearl was please (and this was probably a relief to the oil companies’ executives).

    Pearl Chase was both respected and feared by those executives. This is also why there are palm trees on the Arco Island off Mussel Shoals down on the Rincon – when they built that huge pile of rocks originally, Pearl was aghast at how unsightly it was, barren with no landscaping at all.

    So what does she do? She goes home and immediately calls the CEO of the oil company that built it (I can’t remember which company that was). She called him during dinner, at his home! Wide spread were the stories of such actions by Pearl, and the fear in the executives’ eyes when it was announced “Miss Chase is on the line for you”, and this was just such an instance. The following weeks saw fully grown palm trees trucked out the pier and planted on that island as a result of that conversation, all to appease Pearl Chase.

  2. For those of us who went to Ellwood Elementary School we always used to wonder what this building was. I didn’t find out util later it was a gas station. Thanks for the history on this.

  3. Great to hear it still exists. Tried to build a model of it, but now I wil have to do it over agin. But such a joy.

  4. Gosh, does one need to add all that crap — bike chargers, cafe, etc. — to save this historic bit of beautiful architecture. Won’t that so submerge the gas station in contemporary yuppie consumerism as to destroy its history?

    1. I don’t think it will take away from the historic value. And if this is what it takes to get the city council to approve it, then let’s get it done for Pete’s sake!

      1. 100% agree! The renderings look wonderful, and I’m optimistic that great care will be taken to preserve as much as they can for this beautiful building.

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