Isla Vista, 42 Years After the Riots

Joel and I were lovers during the 1970 riots when I was a student at UC Santa Barbara. The riots happened in Isla Vista, a densely packed, beachfront ghetto of cheaply built student housing next to the university campus. My apartment was right on the police riot patrol loop. Armored trucks circled the neighborhood again and again. During those nights, they would lob tear gas canisters into people’s yards and onto porches and balconies. The gas leaked in around the doors and windows of the crummy apartments, and we lay on the floor holding wet towels over our faces in order to breathe. Outside, the police shot the tires of parked cars and gunned down dogs or cats that wandered out on the streets. Isla Vista was a town under siege, a police state. No one was safe. Nothing was safe.

KCSB, the campus radio station, is still there.

KCSB, the campus radio station, is still there.


Most of us students cowered in our apartments, listening to KCSB’s live reporters, our only source of news about what was happening outside. I still remember the horror I felt when the station manager announced that the police had ordered KCSB taken off the air. I was raised to believe this couldn’t happen in America. It was an awakening that changed me forever.

KCSB is the only radio station in USA history that was shut down to suppress its news reporting. It happened after a police officer accidentally fired his rifle from a convoy of huge dump trucks that barreled in around 1 a.m. the morning of April 18, 1970, killing a student. The police said he was killed by a sniper’s bullet. They said Isla Vista was full of snipers with high-powered rifles. They lied. They knew that same night that Kevin Moran had been shot by a police officer, but they stuck to their sniper story for three full days.

Many of the old landmarks are gone, but the apartment where I lived on Sabado Tarde is still there.

The duplex on Sabado Tarde

The duplex on Sabado Tarde

This used to be the Sun and Earth health food store.

Sun and Earth

Sun and Earth

A university lecture hall with new trees stands where the bank was burned.


The Magic Lantern Theatre showed lots of independent art films. It looks just like it did years ago. The covered walkway leading to the theatre entrance is on the right. The building on the left used to be the Red Lion bookstore, the best bookstore of my life and one of my favorite places of all time.


Borsodi’s Coffeehouse, across the street from the bank, is no more. Most of the shops including Unicorn Books, the head shop, the Rexall, the record store… they’re gone. But the beach still looks the way I remember. Even the oil platform is still there.

The beach looking toward Devereaux point

The beach looking toward Devereaux point

Oil Platform Holly

Oil Platform Holly


2 responses to “Isla Vista, 42 Years After the Riots

  1. Becki (Hess) Norton

    Thanks for your kind words about the Red Lion Book Store and the Magic Lantern Theater. My dad, Bill Hess started those businesses. I have vivid memories of being sent home from I.V. School in 1st grade during the riots. Loaded National Guard trucks rumbling by behind my house on Camino Corto and smelling tear gas. Frightening as a child.

  2. Thanks for reading. The Red Lion had a really good stereo and played The Beatles’ White Album a lot!

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