Art Mankin 1921-2007

Eric Mankin

Art Mankin, who died on May 13 at age 85, loved Santa Barbara passionately for the 36 years he spent here. He did his best to make it a better place and succeeded in many ways in doing so.

For Art, Santa Barbara was love at first sight when he arrived for a job interview in 1969, aged 49. He had never been to California. He spent the first years of his working life in the Midwest-Pittsburgh, where he was born and received his B.S. degree in physics from Pitt, and Minneapolis, where he added an M.S. from the University of Minnesota and married Shirley Labovich. During the end years of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, Art headed to the East Coast to work as an electrical engineer, where he made significant advances developing radar technology.

The Cold War would have destroyed his life and career had he been a weaker person. After attending a political meeting at which a suspected communist was present, Art became the victim of a political witch hunt. He left behind a big box of documents detailing the investigation that followed. Even though it ultimately turned up nothing, his presence at the meeting and the fact that he was a liberal Democrat wound up costing Art his security clearance and job.

Art was greatly helped at this time by his great gift for friendship, a remarkable ability to form lasting bonds. A good friend whom he had met in Minneapolis found him a college teaching position in Chicago. With his wife and two small children, Art thrived in the vibrant urban atmosphere around the University of Chicago and added two more children to the family. Art and Shirley missed that urban atmosphere when he went back into engineering and they moved to suburban Long Island, where Art once again excelled, this time finding ways to make motors spin using air as a lubricant for the bearings.

And then he got an offer to work in a place he had never heard of. He landed in Santa Barbara and was utterly smitten: The mountains! (He had grown up almost without mountains.) The ocean! (He loved swimming, sailing, and beach walking.) The weather! (He could play his beloved tennis outside all year.) The architecture and views! (He found a house above the Mission looking out on the Channel with a view to forever.)

The only problem was the job. He was laid off within a year of arriving. Art could easily have found an engineering job elsewhere, but that would have meant leaving the earthly paradise he treasured more each day he stayed. So instead, he took the money he’d saved and became a small businessman, employing his other skills. He opened two successful franchised businesses, one in rental cars (free cars for Nobel laureates!) and one in income tax preparation. He bought and sold real estate, thrived, and enmeshed himself in the city. He even found a way back into engineering in his sixties, going to work for a GM subsidiary in Goleta.

Former county supervisor Frank Frost remembers him well as “a good friend and a ruthless tennis partner. When I started to run for supervisor back in 1972, we had never met, but he dropped by and asked what he could do to help. When I was elected, I wanted to appoint him to something in county government but he refused. Instead he suggested I appoint Shirley to the new senior citizens’ advisory commission, where she gladly served : When any group of people had gathered to plan or do something good and constructive, Art was always there.”

Perhaps the most tangible product of Art’s presence is the Friendship Adult Day Care Center in Montecito, with which Art and Shirley were involved from its conception. But he also helped to build Santa Barbara’s Planned Parenthood chapter, not just organizationally, but also by personally ferrying contributed books for its annual sale in his faithful pickup. The same truck made a regular journey to markets to pick up unsold produce for Food Bank donations.

Chess was another of Art’s lifelong passions, and in Santa Barbara he not only found more time to play but also tirelessly worked to build and promote the Santa Barbara chess club. And he continued to make donations and more donations to Santa Barbara City College, the Santa Barbara Jewish Federation, and many other causes.

If you live in Santa Barbara, you may have met Art without knowing who he was while dining with your spouse at a restaurant or walking on the beach. A mischievous white-haired gentleman may have accosted you and, looking at the female in the party, addressed the male: “She looks too good for you.” Almost always, you both laughed heartily.

Our family will miss our father. Also-and this is a big statement, but I say it in humility and with respect-we believe the community in the sun he loved so much will miss him, too.

A memorial for Art Mankin will take place Sunday, June 10 starting at 1 p.m. at the Friendship Adult Day Care Center, 89 Eucalyptus Lane, Montecito. All who knew him are invited. If you have a memory or anecdote, please send it to


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