Johnson’s Lee, Santa Rosa Island

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Johnson's Lee, Santa Rosa Island

Johnson’s Lee, Santa Rosa Island is the only harbor on the south side of Santa Rosa Island. The place name appears on the June 1882 U.S. Coast Survey map Pacific Coast from Santa Monica to Point Conception, including the Santa Barbara Channel, California, J.E. Hilgard, Superintendent. Alfred Kroeber listed the Chumash Indian name of Nilal lhuya for this location.

The location is named for William M. Johnson.

In September 1927 D. B. Rogers conducted field work at Johnson’s Lee. On December 1, 1949 the Aristocratis was grounded in a heavy fog near Johnson's Lee while en route to Taiwan with cargo.

From 1951-1963, a large military development consisting of seven two-story barracks, a mess hall, a power house, a pier, three maintenance buildings, seven administrative support buildings, two water tanks, an incinerator, and a number of small sheds dominated the landscape. The U.S. government leased about ten acres for this Air Force Air Control and Warning Station in response to the threat of attacks during the Cold War. It was manned until 1963 with up to 300 personnel, and serviced by the U.S. Navy out of Port Hueneme Naval Base using 85-foot Crash Boats. Fresh water was barged to the location. In 1965 the facility was abandoned, and demolition of the facility was delayed due to asbestos mitigation issues. Vail & Vickers re-purposed building materials from the site for decades. In the early 1990s, the facility was largely torn down by Channel Islands National Park.

This place name appears as Johnson's Lee on the Santa Rosa Island South topographic map.

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In the News~

January 25, 1912 [SBMP]: “A large consignment of seals and sea lions is to be shipped by February 1 to European countries from this city, the order having been received by Captain George M. McGuire several weeks ago. Captain McGuire, who has supplied the great majority of trained seals and sea lions that now perform throughout the world, immediately engaged Captain Vasquez of the Gussie M, to secure the seals for him. Captain Vasquez went to the southerly side of Santa Rosa Island, but owing to the heavy rolling sea caused by storms in the north, he was unable to capture any... Yesterday while off Johnson's Point, as part of his machinery was broken by the high waves and he was compelled to return to port. This morning he came here for new machinery.”

September 1, 1912 [SBMP]: “The launch Comet, returning yesterday from the islands, brings a story of a rough time on the south side of Santa Rosa. During a heavy blow Thursday, the anchor broke, and the Comet drifted several miles fortunately from the rocks. Captain Crist was able to get up sufficient power to bring the boat back to the shelter of Johnson’s Lee, and having another anchor, again made fast.”

April 1, 1963 [SBNP]: “Air Force leaves Santa Rosa Island. About 150 men who have scanned the skies over the Santa Barbara Channel returned to the mainland over the weekend as the Air Force abandoned its 10-year-old station on Santa Rosa Island. Only a small housekeeping team has been left behind to look after buildings and equipment, according to the public information officer at Vandenberg AFB. The source said it was not known here whether the Air Force would keep on paying the $20,000 annual rental until expiry of its lease on 336-1/2 acres of the island in 1965. The island, owned by Vail & Vickers Co. of Santa Barbara, is used largely for grazing of cattle. News of what the Air Force teams deactivation, expected over a year ago, came in a telegram to the News Press from Senator Thomas Kuchel’s office in Washington. The VAFB source said the island base, difficult and costly to maintain, had been rendered obsolete by new devices for aircraft detection. The detachment of the 669th Air Control and Warning unit, with headquarters in Los Angeles, has been supported from Oxnard. It had equipment for detecting hostile aircraft, helping in air search and rescue jobs, and providing weather reports. The VAFB source said some of the men will move to the new 669th Radar Squadron of about 150 men, which will work out of Lompoc Air Station and be supported from VAFB.”

July 26, 1987 [SBNP]: “Agencies dispute duty for removing toxins. A feud is brewing between the National Park Service and the Army Corps of Engineers over which agency is responsible for removing hazardous substances discovered at an abandoned military base on Santa Rosa Island. The price tag for removing the asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), explosives and fuels from the buildings at Johnsons Lee and nearby Soledad Mountain has been roughly set at $1.3 million to $2.3 million. The Park Service, which acquired Santa Rosa in February for $29.5 million, maintains the job should fall to the corps because federal law requires the corps to clean up and remove hazardous substances at abandoned military sites. The corps, however, discovered a clause in a lease agreement between the U.S. Government and the the former owner of the island, Vail and Vickers, which corps representatives said removes them from responsibility. William Ehorn, superintendent of the Channel Islands National Park, said he is frustrated. "They're saying legally they're not required to do it," Ehorn said. "That's moot. The government owns the place now, and it's the government's responsibility to clean it up." Ehorn said the Department of Defense has "a lot more money" than the Park Service for the cleanup work. "They're funded to do these things, the National Park service isn't unless we get a special appropriation from Congress," Ehorn said. In 1949, in response to a Cold War threat of attack by Soviet bombers, about 45 radar stations were built in the United States. Known as Air Control and Warning stations, the facilities were built for the Air Force by the Corps of Engineers. In 1951, a station was constructed on Santa Rosa Island. It included 29 buildings at Johnsons Lee, the only harbor on the south side of the island, and several concrete block structures on nearby Soledad Mountain.To build the Air Force base, the U.S. entered a lease agreement with Vail and Vickers on Dec. 1, 1950. The lease expired Nov. 30, 1965. However the Air Force abandoned the site in 1963, leaving the structures as they were. Over the years, many of the buildings deteriorated due to the weather and vandalism. Vail and Vickers used parts of them for building materials...”