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Oil fields once littered Los Angeles, butting up against homes and beaches.
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Mapping the long history of oil drilling in LA

Angelenos have been living alongside the oil business since 1892

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Oil fields once littered Los Angeles, butting up against homes and beaches.
| Photo by Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Los Angeles has had always had a complicated relationship with oil. On November 4, 1892, what had been a small agricultural city popular with Midwestern tourists became a boomtown nearly overnight when oil was discovered in modern-day Echo Park.

From the beginning, the needs of the oil drillers collided with those of residents, visitors, and developers. The city grew up alongside the oil industry and continues to be shaped by it—about 3,000 active wells remain in LA County, many of them in close proximity to residential neighborhoods, parks, and schools.

Here, a map of some of the places that show how the industry has embedded itself into the urban environment of Los Angeles.

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1. Echo Park Deep Pool

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1419 Colton St
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 481-2640
Visit Website

Here’s where it all began—yes, here. The current site of the Echo Park Deep Pool is where Edward Doheny and his partner Charles Canfield drilled the first oil well in Los Angeles in 1892, using a sharpened eucalyptus tree. According to lore, they found the site after Doheny spotted a slick black substance on the wheel of a passing cart. As casually as possible, he asked the driver to show him exactly where he had come from.

Echo Park Pool
Echo Park Deep Pool.
Google Maps

2. Discovery Well Park

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2200 Temple Ave
Signal Hill, CA 90755
(562) 989-7330
Visit Website

Today, a plaque and adjoining park commemorate the first productive well drilled at Signal Hill. On June 23, 1921, a geyser of oil erupted from the Alamitos No. 1 well, leading to an explosion of drilling in the Long Beach area. By 1923, Signal Hill was the state’s largest field, and California was producing a quarter of the world’s supply of oil. Per the plaque, the monument is a “tribute to the petroleum pioneers for their success here, a success which has, by aiding in the growth and expansion of the petroleum industry, contributed so much to the welfare of mankind.” We’ll take their word for it.

Aerial view of Signal Hill’s oil field, from Reservoir Hill. Photo dated: January 21, 1930.
Los Angeles Public Library photo collection.

3. Pico Canyon Oil Field

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Doheny may have set off the oil boom within the city of Los Angeles, but the first successful well in LA County was to the north, in the Santa Susana Mountains. A gusher at Charles Mentry’s Pico Well No. 4 on September 26, 1876, announced to the world that Southern California was rich in black gold. The nearby town of Newhall later became home to the state’s first refinery (pictured below).

Newhall refinery Los Angeles Public Library

4. Phillips 66 Oil Refinery

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1660 W Anaheim St
Wilmington, CA 90744

The massive Wilmington Oil Field is the largest in California, having produced somewhere between 760 million and 1.2 trillion barrels of oil since it was first tapped in 1932. The Phillips 66 refinery in the southeast Los Angeles neighborhood paints one of its massive storage tanks orange every October as a strange and festive Halloween tradition.

Smilin’ Jack
Smilin’ Jack at Phillips 66 Oil Refinery.
Underawesternsky | Shutterstock

5. Andeavor Refinery

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22600 S Wilmington Ave
Carson, CA 90745
(310) 816-8100
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Perhaps the most recognizable oil facility in the world, the Andeavor Refinery in Carson is adorned with an enormous American flag easily visible to drivers on the 405. Like Andeavor’s Wilmington refinery, this one dates back to the region’s oil boom of the 1920s and 1930s. Together, the two facilities now process a combined 380,000 barrels daily.

Carson refinery.
Andeavor Refinery
Getty Images

6. THUMS Islands

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(562) 786-2385
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At the southeastern end of the Wilmington field is are the THUMS islands, constructed by the Texaco, Humble, Union, Mobil and Shell oil companies in 1965. As part of an agreement with the city of Long Beach, the oil companies invested considerable funds in disguising the drilling sites with boulders, palm trees, sculptures, and water falls—so much so that they are sometimes mistaken for luxury resorts.

THUMS Islands
THUMS Islands.
Shutterstock

7. Venice Beach

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Venice Beach
Los Angeles, CA

Starting in the 1930s, Venice had a run as one of the leading oil producers in the state. During that time, derricks ran all along the canals and dotted the beach. Waterways became filled with oily sludge and the ocean was badly polluted. Production eventually dropped off in the 1970s and the last wells in the area were capped less than two decades later.

Venice Oil Field
Homes and oil derricks along the coast in the Venice Oil Field, in what is modern day Marina del Rey.
Los Angeles Public Library

8. Inglewood Oil Field

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College Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230

The enormous Inglewood Oil Field was first tapped in 1924 and has produced close to 400 million barrels of oil since then. Despite years of complaints from nearby residents, hundreds of wells continue to operate daily right alongside its neighbors in Baldwin Hills and Culver City.

Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives. Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

9. False building

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1351 S Genesee Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90019

From the outside this edifice looks like a particularly soul crushing office building with no windows. Inside, however, it’s not a building at all. The structure is simply a shell disguising the site of an oil derrick slurping away at the Beverly Hills Oil Field.

False building
Beverly Hills Oil Field.
Google Maps

10. Beverly Hills High School

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241 S Moreno Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 229-3685
Visit Website

One of the smaller major oil fields in the Los Angeles area, the Beverly Hills field is nonetheless productive, and the oil derrick on the campus of Beverly Hills High School was, until recently, churning out about 400 barrels of crude each day. The drilling site was ordered shut in 2016.

Beverly Hills High oil tower Getty Images

11. Salt Lake Oil Field

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6298 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 936-2864
Visit Website

The Grove and Original Farmers Market today sit atop the Salt Lake Oil Field, discovered by dairy farmer Arthur Gilmore in the mid-1890s. Though the field was most productive in the early 20th Century, it was still being tapped in 1985, when drillers inadvertently caused methane gas to move below ground, rising up to the surface within the Ross store at Third Street and Fairfax Avenue. The resulting explosion injured 23 people.

Probably oil wells from the Salt Lake Oil field, which began in West Hollywood and ran along Beverly Boulevard past Highland Avenue and south the Wilshire Boulevard.
California Historical Society Digital Library

12. Jefferson Drill Site

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1375 W Jefferson Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90007

The subject of significant community opposition, this South LA drill site was forced last year to comply with city-imposed requirements that ensure its operators enclose the site and monitor vibrations and noxious fumes that neighbors say are caused by the drilling.

Jefferson drill site Google Maps

13. Del Amo Field

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21317 Kent Ave
Torrance, CA 90503

It might not look like it, but this quiet residential street in Torrance was the site of the first major strike in the Del Amo oil field. Throughout the 1920s, this was one of the most productive fields in the LA area with nearly 1,500 wells spread across more than 3,500 acres.

Each house in this view of Torrance seems to have its own oil well. Photo circa 1937.
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

14. Huntington Beach

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Offshore oil rigs are a familiar sight to Huntington Beach residents and visitors. On and off land, drillers have been tapping the city’s oil field since the 1920s. Recent research from the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that it may, in fact, have been oil drilling here that triggered the Long Beach Earthquake in 1933.

Huntington Beach oil rig Shutterstock

15. Allenco oil facility

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814 W 23rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90007

Owned by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, this two-acre oil facility in University Park was operated by a company called Allenco until 2013, when the firm suspended operations amid community complaints about health problems. Later, the Los Angeles city attorney hit the company with more than $1 million in fines and demanded it adhere to new regulations before reopening. Residents continue to demand a permanent shutdown of the site.

Allenco Energy Co.
AP

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1. Echo Park Deep Pool

1419 Colton St, Los Angeles, CA 90026
Echo Park Pool
Echo Park Deep Pool.
Google Maps

Here’s where it all began—yes, here. The current site of the Echo Park Deep Pool is where Edward Doheny and his partner Charles Canfield drilled the first oil well in Los Angeles in 1892, using a sharpened eucalyptus tree. According to lore, they found the site after Doheny spotted a slick black substance on the wheel of a passing cart. As casually as possible, he asked the driver to show him exactly where he had come from.

1419 Colton St
Los Angeles, CA 90026

2. Discovery Well Park

2200 Temple Ave, Signal Hill, CA 90755
Aerial view of Signal Hill’s oil field, from Reservoir Hill. Photo dated: January 21, 1930.
Los Angeles Public Library photo collection.

Today, a plaque and adjoining park commemorate the first productive well drilled at Signal Hill. On June 23, 1921, a geyser of oil erupted from the Alamitos No. 1 well, leading to an explosion of drilling in the Long Beach area. By 1923, Signal Hill was the state’s largest field, and California was producing a quarter of the world’s supply of oil. Per the plaque, the monument is a “tribute to the petroleum pioneers for their success here, a success which has, by aiding in the growth and expansion of the petroleum industry, contributed so much to the welfare of mankind.” We’ll take their word for it.

2200 Temple Ave
Signal Hill, CA 90755

3. Pico Canyon Oil Field

Sand Rock Peak, California 91381
Newhall refinery Los Angeles Public Library

Doheny may have set off the oil boom within the city of Los Angeles, but the first successful well in LA County was to the north, in the Santa Susana Mountains. A gusher at Charles Mentry’s Pico Well No. 4 on September 26, 1876, announced to the world that Southern California was rich in black gold. The nearby town of Newhall later became home to the state’s first refinery (pictured below).

4. Phillips 66 Oil Refinery

1660 W Anaheim St, Wilmington, CA 90744
Smilin’ Jack
Smilin’ Jack at Phillips 66 Oil Refinery.
Underawesternsky | Shutterstock

The massive Wilmington Oil Field is the largest in California, having produced somewhere between 760 million and 1.2 trillion barrels of oil since it was first tapped in 1932. The Phillips 66 refinery in the southeast Los Angeles neighborhood paints one of its massive storage tanks orange every October as a strange and festive Halloween tradition.

1660 W Anaheim St
Wilmington, CA 90744

5. Andeavor Refinery

22600 S Wilmington Ave, Carson, CA 90745
Carson refinery.
Andeavor Refinery
Getty Images

Perhaps the most recognizable oil facility in the world, the Andeavor Refinery in Carson is adorned with an enormous American flag easily visible to drivers on the 405. Like Andeavor’s Wilmington refinery, this one dates back to the region’s oil boom of the 1920s and 1930s. Together, the two facilities now process a combined 380,000 barrels daily.

22600 S Wilmington Ave
Carson, CA 90745

6. THUMS Islands

Long Beach, CA 90802
THUMS Islands
THUMS Islands.
Shutterstock

At the southeastern end of the Wilmington field is are the THUMS islands, constructed by the Texaco, Humble, Union, Mobil and Shell oil companies in 1965. As part of an agreement with the city of Long Beach, the oil companies invested considerable funds in disguising the drilling sites with boulders, palm trees, sculptures, and water falls—so much so that they are sometimes mistaken for luxury resorts.

7. Venice Beach

Venice Beach, Los Angeles, CA
Venice Oil Field
Homes and oil derricks along the coast in the Venice Oil Field, in what is modern day Marina del Rey.
Los Angeles Public Library

Starting in the 1930s, Venice had a run as one of the leading oil producers in the state. During that time, derricks ran all along the canals and dotted the beach. Waterways became filled with oily sludge and the ocean was badly polluted. Production eventually dropped off in the 1970s and the last wells in the area were capped less than two decades later.

Venice Beach
Los Angeles, CA

8. Inglewood Oil Field

College Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230
Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives. Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

The enormous Inglewood Oil Field was first tapped in 1924 and has produced close to 400 million barrels of oil since then. Despite years of complaints from nearby residents, hundreds of wells continue to operate daily right alongside its neighbors in Baldwin Hills and Culver City.

College Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230

9. False building

1351 S Genesee Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90019
False building
Beverly Hills Oil Field.
Google Maps

From the outside this edifice looks like a particularly soul crushing office building with no windows. Inside, however, it’s not a building at all. The structure is simply a shell disguising the site of an oil derrick slurping away at the Beverly Hills Oil Field.

1351 S Genesee Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90019

10. Beverly Hills High School

241 S Moreno Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Beverly Hills High oil tower Getty Images

One of the smaller major oil fields in the Los Angeles area, the Beverly Hills field is nonetheless productive, and the oil derrick on the campus of Beverly Hills High School was, until recently, churning out about 400 barrels of crude each day. The drilling site was ordered shut in 2016.

241 S Moreno Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

11. Salt Lake Oil Field

6298 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Probably oil wells from the Salt Lake Oil field, which began in West Hollywood and ran along Beverly Boulevard past Highland Avenue and south the Wilshire Boulevard.
California Historical Society Digital Library

The Grove and Original Farmers Market today sit atop the Salt Lake Oil Field, discovered by dairy farmer Arthur Gilmore in the mid-1890s. Though the field was most productive in the early 20th Century, it was still being tapped in 1985, when drillers inadvertently caused methane gas to move below ground, rising up to the surface within the Ross store at Third Street and Fairfax Avenue. The resulting explosion injured 23 people.

6298 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90036

12. Jefferson Drill Site

1375 W Jefferson Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90007
Jefferson drill site Google Maps

The subject of significant community opposition, this South LA drill site was forced last year to comply with city-imposed requirements that ensure its operators enclose the site and monitor vibrations and noxious fumes that neighbors say are caused by the drilling.

1375 W Jefferson Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90007

13. Del Amo Field

21317 Kent Ave, Torrance, CA 90503
Each house in this view of Torrance seems to have its own oil well. Photo circa 1937.
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

It might not look like it, but this quiet residential street in Torrance was the site of the first major strike in the Del Amo oil field. Throughout the 1920s, this was one of the most productive fields in the LA area with nearly 1,500 wells spread across more than 3,500 acres.

21317 Kent Ave
Torrance, CA 90503

14. Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach, CA
Huntington Beach oil rig Shutterstock

Offshore oil rigs are a familiar sight to Huntington Beach residents and visitors. On and off land, drillers have been tapping the city’s oil field since the 1920s. Recent research from the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that it may, in fact, have been oil drilling here that triggered the Long Beach Earthquake in 1933.

15. Allenco oil facility

814 W 23rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90007
Allenco Energy Co.
AP

Owned by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, this two-acre oil facility in University Park was operated by a company called Allenco until 2013, when the firm suspended operations amid community complaints about health problems. Later, the Los Angeles city attorney hit the company with more than $1 million in fines and demanded it adhere to new regulations before reopening. Residents continue to demand a permanent shutdown of the site.

814 W 23rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90007

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