Chapter 1: The Beginning


Mosman Beach thumbnail

On a warm, white beach in Mosman, an upscale suburb of Sydney, Australia, lay a 39-year-old professor of Geography from Ohio State, Reginald Golledge. It was 1976, and he had just completed an 8-month sabbatical at the University of Auckland. Golledge was visiting friends and relaxing in the summer sun before returning January 1 to an Ohio winter.

Pleasantly zoned on the beach, Golledge was extracted from reverie by someone kicking sand on him and barking the traditional Australian greeting of “Ow are ya, mate?” Turning his head to the left, the sunbather spotted a pair of white, freckled legs, pants rolled up to the knees. Looking upwards, Golledge recognized the smiling face of David Simonett, who immediately asked, “Have you made up your mind yet? When are you coming to Santa Barbara?” Without waiting for an answer, Simonett crouched down and launched into the plans he had for the fledgling Geography Department at the University of California Santa Barbara, what Golledge was going to teach, specifics about salary and health benefits. He drew in the sand to illustrate and spoke as if it was a foregone conclusion Golledge would come.6

David Simonett chair photo thumbnail

Simonett was the first Chair of this new Department. Geography had been granted Departmental status in 1974. As soon as Simonett was hired, he’d begun pursuing Golledge, who had also been a candidate for Chair. Simonett’s strategy for building a department was to carve out portions of Geography, both human and physical, that were connected by the common use of measurement and analysis. He’d seek accomplished people for each area, then, over the years, infill with junior faculty. Golledge was strong in computational human behavioral and urban geography, and Simonett saw him as key to one of the areas that would become UCSB’s strength.3814

To this day, Golledge has no idea how Simonett tracked him down in Australia. The intense, wiry man had been getting pretty aggressive. He repeatedly phoned Golledge at 2:00 A.M. (11:00 P.M. Pacific time), until Golledge called him at 3:00 A.M. Pacific time.6 Simonett routed Terry Smith, a young professorial recruit, to stop off in Ohio, as he was moving from New York to Santa Barbara, to persuade Golledge. Between planes, carrying his bicycle wheel, Smith pitched Golledge as Simonett had directed.14 And, now, Simonett had convinced UCSB’s Administration to fund a trip to Australia “to finish the recruitment process.” Golledge listened, but made no promises.6

Upon returning to Ohio State University, Golledge decided to accept Simonett’s offer. He was undergoing a divorce and wanted a fresh start. Golledge phoned a colleague from the University of Michigan, Waldo Tobler, whom Simonett had also been pressuring. Golledge had been working cooperatively with Tobler for ten years, applying and extending Tobler’s ideas on trilateration, multidimensional scaling, and use of grids to depict layout distortions, and wanted to know whether he was going to come to UCSB, too.6

Tobler's transformed sinusoidal; Polycylindrical; Equal-area; 1986

A professor at the University of Michigan, Tobler was a pioneer in mathematical cartography. In 1975 he casually mentioned to Jack Estes, who taught air photo interpretation at UCSB, that he’d like to return to the West coast. He’d grown up in Seattle and did not care for the Midwest. Estes passed this information on to Simonett, and Simonett began phoning him in Ann Arbor – often late at night, causing Tobler’s wife to wonder “Who is that nut?!”15

Tobler visited UCSB in Winter 1976 while attending a GIS conference in Santa Barbara. The University of Michigan seemed a much better school than UCSB at that time, but Tobler did prefer the region – in spite of experiencing a rare, small hurricane while staying in an oceanfront motel for the conference. He decided to come by the time Golledge phoned him. Tobler’s wife, however, did not want to come. (Soon afterwards, they divorced.)15

Tobler crammed a trailer full of books and hooked it up to his VW van, which was also packed with books – up to just inches from the roof. The day Tobler pulled out of the driveway at Ann Arbor, the van broke down. Repair took three days. He set off again, sleeping in the van at night in the space between the books and the ceiling. Engine problems in Nebraska caused another delay. Tobler spent two or three days in Grand Island, a small town along Interstate 80 that, today, advertises itself as a good place from which to watch the Spring migration of waterfowl. He arrived in Santa Barbara in July 1977, a few weeks before Golledge.15

Although Tobler knew nothing of it at the time, Simonett had put $2,000 down on a house in Estes’ neighborhood to hold it for him. (Real estate in Santa Barbara has been a tight and expensive market since the Bradbury Dam was built in the 1950s, because water became plentiful from the resultant Lake Cachuma. The water was originally intended to help ranchers survive drought years, but actually killed ranching with residential development.) Tobler, when shown the house Simonett had selected, wasn’t interested. He rented a condo. Simonett lost the money without saying a word. The Department managing staff officer, Meryl Wieder, told Tobler about it after Simonett died in 1990. To enable Tobler to buy the house he did want, Simonett personally loaned him $10,000 for a down payment. They drew up a contract, and Tobler paid off the loan as scheduled.15

Those early days were exciting times. Geography was brand new. The man at the helm, Simonett, had the vision, firepower, persistence, and generosity of spirit to alchemize talented individuals into one of the most prestigious Geography departments of the United States. In recent years, UCSB Geography has received more extra mural research funds than any other department on campus and more faculty awards than any other Geography department nationwide. However, just before Simonett was hired, there was question whether Geography would have a presence at UCSB at all. In spite of the bloom of activity in the late sixties, key people on campus viewed Geography with disdain.

Chapter 2: Barely There, Bloom, Then Bust ยป