Santa Barbara Airport remodel grand opening celebration June 17, 2011
Paul Wellman

The Santa Barbara Airport’s new terminal opened its doors June 17 for “The Art of Travel” Gala, an extravagant fundraising event that at once celebrated the coming completion of its project and unveiled works from the new terminal’s public art program, with artists in attendance. The event displayed an impressive meeting of opposites, where modernity and tradition, finished work and construction, and Spanish colonial revival architecture and green building practices were all welcome.

Local dignitaries, politicians and airport employees pose in front of a vintage DC-3 United "Mainliner" airplane at the Santa Barbara Airport remodel grand opening celebration June 17, 2011
Paul Wellman

The entire airport project cost a total of $63 million and includes not only the new terminal building (which cost $37 million) but also a new aircraft parking ramp, relocation and refurbishing of the 1942 portion of the existing terminal, and a new short-term parking lot and roadway. Leading a tour of the new building, the airport’s marketing coordinator Terri Gibson said the terminal will become operational by summer’s end and that the whole project will be complete by spring of next year.

The new terminal building is more than 10 times the size of its historical counterpart. Its downstairs area includes a spacious hallway of ticketing counters, rental car counters, a longer, roof-covered baggage claim belt, and a scenic soon-to-be glass-enclosed back patio.

A traveler walks by the Santa Barbara Airport remodel grand opening June 17, 2011
Paul Wellman

At the top of the stairs (and not-yet-functioning escalators and elevators), travelers go straight through passenger screening, which on Friday was an enormous room of machinery concealed by black curtains. The food, drinks, and bathroom area is to the right, and includes access to the terminal’s four gates through a wall of west-facing windows.

“We have one ground gate, for the smallest planes,” said Gibson. The three ramp gates have glass walls, which Gibson said City Council wanted so that when people board and disembark, they “know they are in Santa Barbara …. [They] offer a view of the mountains, and now of the ocean, to the south,” Gibson said.

A large model plane by the red carpet welcoming to the Santa Barbara Airport remodel grand opening June 17, 2011
Paul Wellman

The new terminal building is registered with U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) and, if all goes according to planned, will receive Gold Certification. Green aspects include recycled content in tiles and cement and ticketing counters made of a plywood-like material including bamboo.

Extensive walls, the rotunda north entrance, and high ceilings feature public art program works, which was a focus of the evening. Ginny Brush, the Santa Barbara Arts Commission’s executive director, was pleased that they were able to stretch their $100,000 budget fourfold to include commissioned art, long-term loan of existing art, and rotating exhibits of regional art. So while commissioning Vidya Gauci to create “Santa Barbara Star Gazing” (the hand-painted portion of stained wood ceiling made with hand-carved decorative Spanish stencil designs) and Lori Ann David to design “Santa Barbara 360°” (a 500,000-piece ceramic tile mosaic floor medallion at the north entrance rotunda that depicts Santa Barbara flora surrounded by coastline within a Moorish structure) were costly, long-term loans saved money.

Posing in front of a mural painted in 1984 by the late Channing Peake is his wife Cheri Peake (left) and daughter Tuni Peake during the Santa Barbara Airport remodel grand opening celebration June 17, 2011
Paul Wellman

“Fiesta,” a bright, 60-foot mural completed by Channing Peake in 1983, was rescued from storage, where it spent the last decade after removal from its first home in the Gold Room of the El Paseo restaurant. After undergoing restoration that artists in attendance agreed was “brilliant,” it was installed on a prominent wall at the top of the new building’s stairs. Cherie Peake, wife of the late artist, shares Brush’s opinion that the spot is a “great place for it.” (City Hall currently holds a mural study exhibition that includes other works by Peake, who had reportedly painted with Pablo Picasso and was Diego Rivera’s assistant in the ’30s in Mexico.)

The North entrance of the remodeled Santa Barbara Airport features a mosaic floor design titled “Santa Barbara 360°” by artist Lori Ann David June 17, 2011
Paul Wellman

According to Brush, preliminary ideas included plans to design a chandelier to hang from the painted ceiling. Instead, the County of Santa Barbara allowed the Arts Commission to recover a historic lantern from the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Completed in 1944, the lantern “reflects the tradition of Santa Barbara and its rich history,” said Brush. “It also allowed money to stretch to pay for railings.” The railings on the balcony feature giant brown kelp frozen in iron.

“We have the largest forest of giant brown kelp in the world in our channels,” said Colleen M. Kelly, who designed the iron sculptures with the help of David Shelton and his crew from Shelton Design. She called their help “fabulous — bold and underlined.” Of her idea, Kelly said, “Kelp is one of Santa Barbara’s treasures that we do not appreciate because we can’t see it.” Like “Santa Barbara Star Gazing,” “Santa Barbara 360°,” and “Fiesta,” the position of “Giant Brown Kelp” enjoys high visibility on the balcony, which Kelly said was approved to meet safety standards for guests the same Friday afternoon after railings and kelp were installed only the day before.

Santa Barbara Airport remodel grand opening celebration June 17, 2011
Paul Wellman

Event guests enjoyed food and drinks from local wineries and breweries and catered food, and made offers on silent auction travel packages worth up to $1,825, all to the tune of music by Luna Gitana, which has been playing “California flamenco rumba” in the area for 11 years.

Several Santa Barbara and Goleta city councilmembers were in attendance. In her speech, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said she “didn’t know how gorgeous and exquisite the airport terminal would be.” She called the airport not just a place for arrivals and departures but also a “community airport” that “does not lose that Santa Barbara experience.”

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