A Home for a War Hero’s Family

When I first approached the 1916 home located at 2127 Castillo Street, hidden behind a tall hedge, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I did notice, however, the attractive Craftsman-style gate at the entrance. 

When I opened the gate and got my first view of the home, I was pleased to see that the exterior blended seamlessly with the gate. Inside the home, the squared, tapered columns in the living room also echoed the same clean-lined Craftsman style.

Craftsman homes were most popular between 1905 and 1930. They were built all over the United States and were especially popular here on the West Coast.

I was not surprised when the owner showed me a letter from City of Santa Barbara architectural historian Nicole Hernandez, stating that the home was proposed to be a Structure of Merit because of its architectural integrity. The home is a prime example of a Craftsman bungalow.

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, Craftsman bungalows took America by storm. The typical Craftsman bungalow was a single-story structure suited to a warm climate, with porches for outdoor entertainment, wide overhanging eaves, and multiple windows to provide shade and cross-ventilation in the days before air conditioning. These small houses helped fulfill many Americans’ wish to own their own home. With climate and economic opportunity drawing more people westward, homey Craftsman bungalows sprang up rapidly in California,” according to the Historic Resource Guidelines: Bungalow Haven Historic District, Santa Barbara. (This home is not in that district.)

Lt. John P. McGowan from the ‘Santa Barbara News-Press’, February 8, 1944. | Credit: Courtesy

The War Hero’s Story

Several owners lived in the home in the early decades of the home’s history. The most notable owners were the extended family living here in the decades before, during, and after World War II. This house was home to a soldier’s grandparents, his sister and her husband, and his cousin.

The soldier’s name was John P. McGowan. He was born in Santa Barbara in 1920 and graduated from Santa Barbara High School in 1938. At that time, he told the local paper, “I hope to enter aviation, and will go to college this fall.” McGowan enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1940 and served as a pilot in the war in Europe.

Lieutenant McGowan flew a large B-17 bomber that was nicknamed “The Wild Hare.” It had a painting on it that showed Bugs Bunny riding a bomb and whipping it with a carrot.

In 1943, on his 10th combat flight, McGowan’s plane was hit by enemy aircraft, and one of his aircraft’s engines caught fire. Nevertheless, he flew the plane to his designated target, dropped the bombs, and tried to fly back to base. But his B-17 was then attacked by seven German fighter planes, and he and his crew had to parachute out over Holland.

A B-17 bomber like the one flown by Lieutenant McGowan | Credit: Courtesy Library of Congress

The news that he was missing in action ran in the local paper shortly after his plane was downed. Then, there were long months when his family at 2127 Castillo waited and feared and hoped. To add to the family’s distress, McGowan’s father had perished in a plane accident when McGowan was just an infant. I can only imagine what the anxious hours, days, and months must have been like for his family. It was not until several months later that the family learned that he had survived and was a prisoner in a German POW camp in Holland. 

Then came another period of waiting and wondering for the family. McGowan spent 18 months of imprisonment until the war in Europe ended in May 1945. He returned to his family in Santa Barbara in September of that year and was awarded a medal for his valued service. After the war, he joined the Air Force, where he served until 1958. Members of his family lived in the home until about 1960.

The home’s present owner appreciates the home’s architectural character, and enjoys the front-yard pond and the privacy offered by the large hedge in front.

Please do not disturb the residents of 2127 Castillo Street.

Betsy J. Green is a Santa Barbara historian and author of Discovering the History of Your House and Your Neighborhood, Santa Monica Press, 2002. Her website is betsyjgreen.com.

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