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The Hazards of Paradise: Place, Public Image, and the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill

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Abstract:

On the morning of January 28, 1969 an offshore oil platform operated by the Union Oil Company near Santa Barbara, California ruptured and oil began seeping into the Pacific Ocean. In the days and weeks following Platform A’s blowout, images of the disaster from attempts to absorb oil on the ocean surface to oil-soaked birds circulated in national and international outlets provoking outrage and activism. In Santa Barbara residents formed Get Oil Out! to halt drilling in the vicinity and prevent the city from becoming “Oil Town, USA.”

But Platform A was only one of twelve oil platforms along a fifty mile stretch of coast. Since the early twentieth century oil had been a vital part of the region’s economy and a direct, though obscured, contributor to Santa Barbara’s development as a tourist center. Much of its appeal came from what the novelist and resident Ross Macdonald described as its “tradition of living at respectful ease with nature.” With its picturesque setting between the mountains and ocean, Spanish Revival architecture, and lack of all but “smokeless industry” the city’s image as a climatic and aesthetic haven contrasted markedly with the environmental disaster on its shores.

Historians have highlighted the ways that images from oil spills in the 1960s and 1970s shaped environmental awareness and narratives. This paper builds upon this work by underscoring the ways that images of the 1969 oil spill destabilized Santa Barbara’s sense of place, raising questions about the interplay between transformations in the natural and built environments and how perceptions about environmental heritage and suitability are formed. In this case residents needed to grapple with the ways that their city’s public image helped to conceal their complex social, economic, and environmental relationships with oil and how the oil spill put those relationships into relief.
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Name: ASEH Annual Conference
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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1171203_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Rhee, Pollyanna. "The Hazards of Paradise: Place, Public Image, and the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL, <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1171203_index.html>

APA Citation:

Rhee, P. "The Hazards of Paradise: Place, Public Image, and the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1171203_index.html

Publication Type: Panel Paper
Abstract: On the morning of January 28, 1969 an offshore oil platform operated by the Union Oil Company near Santa Barbara, California ruptured and oil began seeping into the Pacific Ocean. In the days and weeks following Platform A’s blowout, images of the disaster from attempts to absorb oil on the ocean surface to oil-soaked birds circulated in national and international outlets provoking outrage and activism. In Santa Barbara residents formed Get Oil Out! to halt drilling in the vicinity and prevent the city from becoming “Oil Town, USA.”

But Platform A was only one of twelve oil platforms along a fifty mile stretch of coast. Since the early twentieth century oil had been a vital part of the region’s economy and a direct, though obscured, contributor to Santa Barbara’s development as a tourist center. Much of its appeal came from what the novelist and resident Ross Macdonald described as its “tradition of living at respectful ease with nature.” With its picturesque setting between the mountains and ocean, Spanish Revival architecture, and lack of all but “smokeless industry” the city’s image as a climatic and aesthetic haven contrasted markedly with the environmental disaster on its shores.

Historians have highlighted the ways that images from oil spills in the 1960s and 1970s shaped environmental awareness and narratives. This paper builds upon this work by underscoring the ways that images of the 1969 oil spill destabilized Santa Barbara’s sense of place, raising questions about the interplay between transformations in the natural and built environments and how perceptions about environmental heritage and suitability are formed. In this case residents needed to grapple with the ways that their city’s public image helped to conceal their complex social, economic, and environmental relationships with oil and how the oil spill put those relationships into relief.


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