jeweled platypus


sunday, october 18, 2009
The munitions bunkers of MCAS Santa Barbara

If you drive into UCSB along Mesa Road and you keep your eyes open, you can see this in the dry Goleta Slough between campus and the airport:

a bunker

I didn’t notice those structures until a few weeks ago when I started looking into the history of the building that houses the College of Creative Studies. Our building is one of a few remaining ones on campus from 1942, when the area was a Marine Corps Air Station that trained pilots for World War II. I posted the details I found about our building on the CCS Literature Collaborative blog (with aerial photos!).

During that process, I read the UCSB Long Range Development Plan’s Sensitivity Study for Potential Historical Resources (PDF) and saw a listing for building 802, a “Storage Bunker” that served as a “military ammunitions bunker” for the former Marine base. This is also mentioned in the UCSB Long Range Development Plan’s document about Hazards and Hazardous Materials (PDF): “Ammunition was discovered in a bunker behind the police station in 1988.”

I like local history and ruins, especially military ruins (it’s hard to overstate how much Doug and I enjoyed visiting the forts of the Marin Headlands and Treasure Island), and I started thinking about how to find this strange remnant. A few days later I noticed the structures in the photo above, and then I saw another bunker while walking along Los Carneros Road. They’re pretty well hidden — you can barely see them in the background of this photo — but Doug and I went to find them. Here’s a map.

We parked in the small lot by the police/fire station, and I was a little worried that we would get in trouble for poking around, but none of these small roads/trails had “no trespassing” signs (except the fence marking where the airport begins). Nobody was around on a Saturday afternoon except a couple of firefighters washing a fire truck. And before we even walked all the way to the bunker, we saw this surprise:

a fragment? a fragment?

It’s a tall concrete sculpture, but I don’t know what it means or why it’s there. I don’t think it used to be part of any other structure; the base is angled in a way that would probably make it unsuitable as a load-bearing column. There’s a small black plaque on one side, but I can’t make out what it says except the name “Ciabatton” and maybe the date “1968”. A monument or memorial of some kind? It’s close to the bunker visible from the road:

a bunker

Then Doug and I walked toward this one, which we barely saw among the brush:

a nasty bunker

If you look through the heavy fencing, you can see the number 803 and a faded sign that says “CAUTION: HAZARDOUS CHEMICAL WASTE”. Wow!

Back toward the police/fire station, here’s the bunker (802) that Facilities Management uses for storage:

active bunker

There’s also a fourth bunker, but it’s on airport territory and not accessible.

I asked some of my UCSB friends whether they’d seen these bunkers, and most hadn’t heard of them — or had seen something while visiting the police station (to contest tickets, etc.) but hadn’t wanted to get in trouble by looking more closely. It makes sense that the university doesn’t publicize this utility area or make it very friendly, but I’m glad these structures are still accessible to people who are fascinated by the area’s life as a Marine base. There’s a nearby Air Heritage Museum open a few hours a week (for information, scroll down on this museum list), and someday Doug and I are going to wake up early enough to go there. I’d like to ask them about the weird and lovely concrete monument.

This type of camouflaged munitions storage bunker, distanced from other structures, is common on military bases. I think they’re all beautiful.

Update: As of January 2011, the publicly-accessible bunkers have been torn down, along with the concrete “monument” (which was actually probably just a materials test for building Storke Tower).

comments (2)

to my recollection the hubbub that followed the 1988 munitions discovery was about zero. (of course in europe and other former war zones they make these kinds of discoveries frequetly)
jeffrey on 10/18/2009 14:47:18

I figured that it wasn't a big deal, based on the lack of anything I could find about these online. :)
Britta on 10/18/2009 17:28:58

comments are off. for new comments, my email address is


I’m Britta Gustafson.

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