Presented to the SBRC Management Club 20 January 1981
Back when I went to the movies they also had a serial. Every Saturday afternoon you could go for another installment. This series has been rather momentous and I presume you all remember January 20, 1981, but for a moment I would like to go back to April 1 of 1952, which was on a smaller scale a momentous day, and I would like to go up to Mission Canyon. You go up past the Mission, across Foothill past the Botanic Gardens all the way to the end. It’s known as 1500 Mission Canyon Road. There were half a dozen buildings up there. Back in the forties it was known as the Lomas Feliz Private School. On April 1 in 1952 you would have seen a Los Angeles businessman by the name of Ted Horowith running up the foothills. He was a treasurer of the Pacific Mercury Television Manufacturing Company. Not far behind him you would have seen a deputy sheriff, by the name of King. The deputy did indeed catch the businessman. What he was trying to do was serve some papers and there were some people who were observing all this, guys like Gene Peterson, Jack Lansing, Stan Buller, Jack Kuhn, probably Bill Shockensey, perhaps Tom Johnson, (he kind of came and went, one of those parttime drifting fellows) Leon Morris, whom some of you will recognize who probably knew as much about what was going on in the company as anybody. I was not a witness to this event. I heard about it in detail later.
While all that was going on, there was activity down in Los Angeles. Down there were three of us, Dave Evans, who was President of the Pacific Mercury Research Center, Custer Baum who was Vice-President and Director of Research and myself. We were down there for a meeting with the top management of Pacific Mercury Television Company who had a financial interest in this research center up here. The reason for the meeting was to discuss the dissolution and the serving of papers on the corporate officers to accomplish this dissolution because the process server Jerry Somebody had been trying for the better part of a week to serve papers to accomplish this dissolution with a complete lack of success.
We got to Los Angeles, Dave stopped at the Culver City Bank of America to do a little banking before the meeting early in the afternoon, called back to Santa Barbara, heard about the episode, that the file cabinets were all locked now with Pacific Mercury‘s locks, that we didn‘t know the combination of and the employees had been advised that Dave was fired. He and Custer returned to Santa Barbara right quick, and left me in Los Angeles with the papers and the process server to serve on the corporate officers. That‘s a bit of a sensation to go to a meeting with the President of the company, knowing you are going to serve him some papers. We succeeded, I think we succeeded primarily because he was aware that the corporation had already been served in Santa Barbara and once was enough. Our attorney was rather cautious and he wanted all of the officers served, so from that fellow we went to Beverly Hills and served a couple more. By midnight I got back on the train and the head guard (we had guards in those days) met me and I got the whole story of the day. It was a memorable day and later was referred to as Al1 Fools Day of 1952.
I think it‘s important for the history of SBRC to recognize the type of individual that Dave Evans was. He was raised in Georgia, the reason he got out here was because in the mid-30’s he, as an amateur radio operator, won a contest and was nationally recognized. Another radio operator from Ventura had ambitions to win the contest, asked Dave to come out and help him. He did. That fellow, Doc Stewart, subsequently won the contest. In the process Dave’s reputation spread. Howard Hughes was planning a round-the-world flight. Dave was asked to operate the ground station down in the Culver City area for that flight which he did. When the flight was over Dave had his bags packed and Howard asked him where he was going and he told him and Howard asked him to stay and Dave became in charge of the Radio Department of Hughes Aircraft, which really wasn‘t very much. But it grew.
0ver the years into the 40’s, the early 40’s, the Radio Department became more active. They, in the 40’s won a government contract and got into the radar business. Dave was then in charge of what was Department 04. The radar business was quite a thing. They were also involved in some other projects, one of which was a Daylight Startracker and it’s still kinda hard to mention that name because for years the title was classified and when you come to a strange town and that’s the only thing you are doing and you can‘t talk about it, it‘s a little suspect.
But after all these years I’m sure it’s declassified. The Aircraft Company decided to concentrate on radar which meant deactivation of interest in Daylight Startrackers. Dave preferred a small operation that had now gotten rather large so he took the opportunity to move the project, which was under a Wright Field contract, to Santa Barbara, and start a company based on a government contract to work on Daylight Startrackers. He was able to pull that off and I guess I should warn you that one of these notices says that this is a lecture which implies that there are going to be tests given later. One of the questions I would think is, “Why did SBRC locate in Santa Barbara?“ The answer is, “Because Dave Evans wanted to live in Santa Barbara.” We did not come here because the name was SBRC. And a significant reason why Dave wanted to live in Santa Barbara was because his wife’s sister lived in Santa Barbara, and he visited here frequently and they enjoyed the town and probably his wife influenced him. He also realized that a plant in Santa Barbara would be a place where technical people could be attracted and he was correct in that at least for many years. It may be a little more difficult these days.
As a matter of fact we were one of the few companies in town in the early 1950’s. One who was here ahead of us was known as D & R Limited. Stands for Dawley and Reynolds the two owners. That company has dissolved and I believe since disappeared and been replaced and Varo was in their place for many years down on East Gutierrez. We were kind of a freak, a technical outfit in Santa Barbara, such a freak that the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a dinner for us. It was a barbecue in an adobe downtown, one evening in which all the local businessmen showed up, including Tom Storke and whoever happened to be welcoming; sorry that we couldn‘t tell them what we were doing.
In those days of Pacific Mercury the purchasing and the accounting was done at the home office in Van Nuys. This led to friction, and it was then the research center started here in the summer of ‘51, and by April of ‘52 the friction had developed to the point where the lawsuit started. Reason for the lawsuit was because legal advice was, “You should have a legal separation, Dave, so that you are free to start up another company and won‘t be subject to legal action.” The parent company or whatever it was didn’t want to dissolve and that led to hard feelings. And that was the reason for the escapade up in Mission Canyon there.
Dave was fired, he was replaced by General Winky Kratz, who some of you recognize as a prior Hughes employee, and after his time with Pacific Mercury Research Center which didn’t last very long, it failed within a year after 1952, he was then down at Jefferson Electronics on lower State Street. Dave was fired, he got a restraining order, Pacific Mercury said if that guy is going to manage the company we require that he post a bond because he is probably going to ruin the operation. The price of a bond was more than the whole group had put together. But that brought that thing to an end. The only thing that stopped the legal action was a friend of Dave’s who had represented Howard Hughes on a personal accident case in Los Angeles some years earlier, successfully, who went to work on it, and ascertained that the incorporation of the Pacific Mercury Research Center, if it indeed had been incorporated, involved forgery.
We tracked down the notary public who had attested to the signatures on the document, and the notary could not really remember whether Dave’s signature was on there at the time the notary stamp was applied. But who really wanted to worry about whether the notary was doing a tidy jab. The attorney was able to convince the parent company or whatever it was that it was easier to pay Dave $1000 bucks to drop the legal action than to go through the forgery suit. So that’s how that one ended up. This left all the group of people, which now was 12-15, free to work on the beach, or the city parks or wherever to put together proposals to get the next company operating.
The next company was named Santa Barbara Research Center which was what Dave really wanted in the first place. There was a Wright Field contract and I forget the details, had to do with materials as I remember, pretty far out from infrared, that could be available to a non-profit company, and it sounded like a possibility, therefore SBRC was incorporated as a non-profit company. The proposal was unsuccessful, the incorporation succeeded and we had the non-profit company though.
One of the employees of SBRC was a paper clip scientist. This was a German scientist who after the war was brought over by the U.S. Government, was an employee at Point Mugu, had friends among other paper clip scientists, one of whom had started a company down in North Hollywood, Studio City area on Ventura Boulevard, the H.A. Wagner Company. He was very sympathetic and he liked Ed Kutscher and kinda liked our group and so he found a reason to give us a sub-contract from his prime contract for $25,000 and that came in the nick of time. There was also a Navy contract for some infrared lead selenite development work which was going on. By now these people who had been on the beach and the city parks were located at 2034 De La Vina Street at the corner of Padre, which we were in for a couple of years and then it became a church and then it was demolished.
Things were not always great. The initial financing was accomplished by a collection of the employees’ funds. This was a little thin. There was one week I had to drive to San Diego to pick up a check to make our payroll good. Fortunately that didn’t happen too often. We got involved in a Dart program, which is of significance. You may remember Bill Bollay who had the Aerophysics Development Corporation, he built the building which is now the Delco Building. At the time he was in Santa Monica, we did work for him on a seeker for his Dart missile. That proceeded rather successfully, but it became apparent to SBRC and particularly to Dave Evans, who was sufficiently honorable, and that was indeed a trait of Dave’s, that he told Wagner and Bill Bollay that they should get together, that Wagner’s gunsight could be adopted to missile sights and that Bollay probably didn’t need our seeker. It worked out that way, so that left us out of the Dart missile. Wagner did get his favor returned for having given him the $25,000 to begin with. While we were working on the Dart seeker we found good reason to do work on an infrared detector to use in that seeker although it was not a stated objective of the contract, so we got the Chemistry Lab going again and Tom Johnson can fill you in on some of those details. Late ‘53 or early ‘54 nobody wanted to buy a non-profit corporation, but Grand Central Aircraft of Glendale was willing to buy the assets of the corporation. We then became a division, those of us who were classed as an asset, became a division of Grand Central Aircraft. We were about 15 employees at that time. In 1954 we moved out to Santa Barbara airport to Building 316. You really need to see photographs of that to believe it. A verbal description is a little bit inadequate. We, I believe, had the first clean room in town. It was accomplished by thin plastic applied to the walls and the floor and not much else to keep it clean.
We got along with Grand Central quite nicely but in that sale, Dave kept an option to buy back and in about ‘54 he did indeed buy it back, and sold it to Bulova Watch Company. There were some trials and tribulations along the way but we had a successful period with Bulova Watch Company. We then became, not a division, but a wholly owned company. We were then incorporated in 1954 as Santa Barbara Research Center a-hope-to-make-a-profit corporation. We were fairly self-sufficient except financially. We had our own purchasing, our own accounting, and it was at that time that Marv Matthias came along to keep the books added up, and our primary intercourse with Bulova was an occasional telegram to send more money and that came back by telegraph, and it worked out fine. In that transaction, Dave also retained an option to buy back the company. These were mostly sweetheart deals with friends of his and they were helping him. So around July 3, 1956, the Board of Directors met, some of the Directors resigned, others were elected who happened to be Hughes Aircraft employees. There was a small exchange of money, the company wasn’t worth a great deal in those days, and so from then on SBRC has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Hughes Aircraft Company. At that time there were 45 employees. We were in 17,000 square feet, for a considerable time we were in 11,000, that good old building 316, and we expanded that by taking over half of building 314 which is just across the street from building 315, which most of you recognize now. So we had half of that and we were moving along. So, from 1956 on things looked up and I think we have had a rather happy relationship with Hughes Aircraft. That’s pretty much my version of the history, and I don ‘t claim to be a historian, and if there’s somebody that does not like my version of it I think we could arrange a negotiated figure, and I’d be happy to change it, but in the meantime that’s what I remember.