"In 1925, California supplied [much] of the world’s oil
(Google quickview, original PDF
) and much of it came from pumps in the Southland
). To date, around 9 billion barrels of oil have been produced in the Los Angeles area. There are still over 30,000 active wells here pumping around 230 million barrels of oil a year, making Los Angeles County the second most productive oil county in California (although the quality of the oil here is somewhat low by today’s standards). There are 55 known oil fields in the Los Angeles area and 11 of them are located in a very urban context. This setting makes the oil extraction process in Los Angeles unique." Things to do in LA: Urban Oil Wells In Los Angeles, Part I
and Part II
Though they missed the initial California oil boom of 1865-66
, Edward Doheny
and Charles Canfield
are the two names most closely associated with the history of oil in California
, when in 1892 they were the first to drill an oil well in the city of Los Angeles, striking black gold 200 feet down with a sharpened 60-foot-long eucalyptus tree trunk. It wasn't until 1916 that a really productive well was drilled on Signal Hill
, leading to the nickname Porcupine Hill, for the sheer number of oil derricks
. Between the first well dug by Doheny and Canfield and Porcupine Hill, there was the deeply religious piano teacher-turned-wildcatter, Emma A. Summers
Summers invested $700 she had earned from teaching piano for a half interest in a well just a few blocks from Doheny’s producer
. When that first gamble paid off, she bought more wells, until she 1901, when she was operating fourteen paying wells of her own and leasing others, and even owned forty horses and ten wagons to distribute her oil, bypassing local oil brokers. She even had her own blacksmith shop to maintain her 10 four-horse teams, and the shop did custom work on the side. This sort of business acumen was remarkable for a women of that era, earning her an article in the San Francisco Call
, which wrote
If Mrs. Emma A. Summers were less than a genius she could not, as she does to-day, control the Los' Angeles oil markets. And such a modest, shy and very womanly woman Is this California oil queen!
A man In her place would enjoy success better with all the world looking on, but Mrs. Summers hides away from the lime-light and shrinks from the gaze of the public eye. The names of men who have made fortunes since a sea of oil was discovered under California's crust are known the length and breadth of the state and beyond. But this woman who handles a good fourth of the output of the Los Angeles field is scarce-known as an operator except by those with whom she deals and her own personal friends.
Her empire grew greatly with the increased oil demand in World War I, earning her the credit of being one of the largest and most successful operators on the Pacific coast
(Google books; Archive.org
). With such wealth, she ventured into real estate, including theaters, apartment houses, several San Fernando Valley ranches, and the Summers Paint Co. She moved to the new "suburbs" out Wilshire Boulevard in 1909
, though soon moved to a mansion on Wilshire Place. In the 1930s, she lived in a home on California Street, which she turned into an elegant and profitable hotel appropriately called the Queen
, and lived there for a while. Summers lived out her remaining years at the Biltmore and Alexandria hotels, though by 1940 she moved to a nursing home in Glendale, passing away November 27, 1941. She was 83 years old.
The Los Angeles oil industry outlived Emma Summers, and was recognized as an integral part of the County of Los Angeles in 1957, when the County seal was updated to include oil derricks
alongside emblems for culture, agriculture, dairy, fishing, engineering and construction, and the county's Spanish history. Oil production peaked in 1985 at 424 million barrels, 13 percent of the U.S. total production
. It was at this same time that Signal Hill, no longer covered with spines of numerous visible oil derricks, shifted from an old oil town and blue-collar enclave into an upscale neighborhood
. Dropping production and falling gas prices lead to decreased pumping, until 2005, when prices were high enough to bring long-quiet derricks back to life
. But with the increased development and density in Los Angeles, the new and newly active wells are generally quiet, if at all visible
VICE video from 2009: Oil of L.A.
When we first heard L.A. being described as an oil town, we went around looking for evidence of it. It's the 3rd largest oil field in the country. We expected pumps, drills, something that would tell us that oil was here.... We found out that L.A. oil is still thriving, it's just gone underground.
The Center For Land Use Interpretation's Urban Crude
project hosted a bus tour in 2010 of various oil-related sites in the LA basin. An extensive write-up of the tour is online
, complete with locations and photos of the sites. The Los Angeles Times has another, much shorter, write-up on a 2010 petro-tour
. Both mention the La Brea Tar Pits, probably the most famous oil-related place in L.A
. Still, some long-abandoned oil wells are staying dead, capping an era of L.A. oil exploration
, and affordable apartments will replace the old restaurant, butcher shop and office building that were adjacent to a now-plugged oil well.