The Bank of America Burning in Isla Vista on the 50th Anniversary

Do you remember where you were on February 25, 1970—fifty years ago?  I do.

I received a phone call at 6:00am from a friend in the radical movement.  He told me that William Kuntsler ( a radical attorney famous at the time) was going to speak at UC Santa Barbara in the afternoon, then the students would march into Isle Vista, riot and try to burn down the local Bank of America.  I immediately called a friend in the FBI to alert them to this.

I attended the Kuntsler speech, left before it ended and drove into Isle Vista—a town with only one major route into it, easily blocked by protestors.  As I entered the town, I went to the strip mall where the Bank of America was located.  I observed a van.  Out of the van came a couple of people.  They started taking boxes, fixed with rocks and hauled them to the roofs of the buildings.

Soon the rioters came, followed by the Sheriffs.  As the cops came close to the buildings in the strip mall, rocks started raining down on them.  I had organized a group of “Silent Majority “ students to protect the buildings—we stopped several attempts to burn the buildings—EXCEPT for one.

Bank of America the week before placed full page ads around the nation opposing the Viet Nam war and apologizing for helping finance government.  So, while we stopped the burning of small businesses—we ignored the burning of the Bank of America—let the cops do it—and they failed.

While I was working with the students trying to stop the burning of building, a relative came up to me.  She was a professor at UCSB at the time and one of the KEY organizers of the riot and the burning of the buildings.  She saw what I was doing and came to me.  I was informed that I had to leave immediately, she could not stop her people from besting me up.  My mistake was leaving.  But the goal of saving the innocent small business and letting the Bank of America building meet it’s fate, I still felt good.

Yes, fifty years ago I attended a riot, by invitation.

The Bank of America Burning in Isla Vista on the 50th Anniversary

By Tim Owens, Independent,  2/25/20   


By late 1969, the fog of war seemed everywhere.  The struggle in Vietnam was raging and young men were being drafted to fight an increasingly unpopular conflict.  Protests were breaking out on college campuses and spilling into the streets of our cities.  A younger generation was questioning “the establishment,” calling for changes – even a revolution – while seeking brotherly love and a more peaceful existence.

By early 1970, student activism hit the sleepy campus of UCSB and then engulfed its neighboring bedroom community of Isla Vista in three major disturbances in February, April and June. In the fog of these conflicts, one encountered smoke, tear gas, arrests, beatings, and brutality.  Hundreds were arrested.  One was killed.  

At the core of each of these disturbances was a so-called symbol of the establishment – the Bank of America, located in the heart of I.V.  In one seminal moment that was to trigger the first of three riots and capture the headlines of the entire country, the Bank of America was burned to the ground.  The date: February 25, 1970.  

I stood across the street that night on Embarcadero del Norte in Isla Vista.  Like dozens of others around me, I watched as a burning dumpster was being rammed through the bank’s doors; catching the curtains inside on fire; spreading to anything that would burn.  It wasn’t long before the entire structure was ablaze and collapsing in on itself.  By dawn, all that was left were smoldering embers, a couple of the walls and an erect, but freakishly twisted metal vault that miraculously hadn’t melted.  The bank burning and the nights of street warfare that followed can only be described as surreal.

I was junior at UCSB majoring in Political Science when I watched the bank burn down.  I was also active as a programmer with the campus radio station KCSB, becoming its General Manager in my senior year.  I was one of several KCSB staff members who filed live reports during the I.V. unrest.

In 1972, a year after graduating from UCSB, I received a grant from the Regents of the University of California – “guilt money” it was nicknamed – to become a media liaison between Isla Vista and Santa Barbara.  My role was to provide radio reports to the Santa Barbara’s radio stations that would talk about the beautification and construction efforts taking place in Isla Vista by its active and creative Community Council and Planning Commission.  I thought my reports would help bridge the distrust between the two communities that had been intensified by the riots.  

While filing these reports, I also anchored KCSB’s broadcast of the Captain Joel Honey hearings – the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s deputy who was accused of brutality during the Isla Vista disturbances.  (Capt. Honey was found guilty and subsequently dismissed.)  I discovered a bunch of tapes at KCSB with recorded audio of the riot coverage by the station’s reporters.  I then set about to create a two part radio documentary using those recordings.  The first documentary would re-capture the stories and sounds of the Isla Vista disturbances; the second focused on Isla Vista’s future.  

With the help of KCSB’s news director, Lisa Osborn, we have re-mixed the first part of this documentary and are making it available for you to listen.  I must admit it has been rather eye-opening to re-visit this documentary over the past couple of weeks – some 48 years later.  Not only does it remind me of my shortcomings as a want-to-be reporter and producer back then, not to mention the unnerving upheaval that was taking place around me, but the documentary is also hauntingly fresh about who we are as a people and country today – divided, fragmented, untrusting, angry and fearful.  Hear for yourself.      

Editor’s note:  Tim Owens did go on to enjoy a successful broadcasting career.  He has been awarded two Peabody’s for his work with National Public Radio in Washington, DC, and other distinguished honors for his work in broadcast management.  Tim returned to Santa Barbara in 1997.  (Unfortunately, the tape of part two of the documentary – “The Future of Isla Vista” – cannot be found.)

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.


  1. 50 years ago people identified in our Army files as being from the area were asked if we would volunteer as a riot squad with the Sheriff

    It was over quickly, and we were dismissed back to our units.

    The idea this was a spontaneous riot is now debunked. How do you show up with rocks before the “outraged” students were there.

    But again the concept that this was an unjust war was proven wrong with the fall of Saigon. 3 million south Vietnamese were forced into camps and never came out. A traitor to the Saigon gov. and spent 10 years under house arrest by the Communists said on 60 Minutes the Communist lied to us. (Duh)

    The supposed best and brightest of the UC and State College System could not see through the Propaganda of the Communists.

    Remember people it was the Democrat Party at the Paris Peace Accords who negotiated with the Communists to Block Nixon Administration negotiations.

    Of course 20/20 hindsight if great. What those of us in the Army knew the Communists were defeated badly in the ’68 Tet. We also knew that the Bombing Campaign by Nixon was wildly successful.

    As Ho Chi Minh’s Gen. Giap stated in his auto biography the Communist in Hanoi were within 3 days of unconditional surrender. He goes on to state they did not understand why Nixon called off the bombing.

    The answer……………. The Democrat end run to Chairman Ho stating they would get quick peace just listen to the Democrats. They then told Nixon if it continued he would get nothing in Congress.

    Does this sound like the Democrats going to Iran in violation of the Constitution to Negotiate with a Foreign Power?

    Now doe anyone wonder why I will NEVER vote for a Democrat?

  2. And this was before computers–who knows how many unrecoverable documents were lost how many people injured by these thugs. This is what vigilante justice is for.

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