Hiding in Plain Sight: The Oil Wells of Los Angeles

in history •  2 years ago  (edited)


“The meek shall inherit the earth, but not its mineral rights.” That quote was attributed to J. Paul Getty, founder of Getty Oil and perhaps the greatest oilman of all time. In 1966, the Guinness Book of World Records named him the richest person in the world at the time.

Getty became wealthy after striking oil in Oklahoma in 1916. He became far wealthier after finding more oil in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, beginning in 1949. But Getty chose to live much of his life in Los Angeles, a city which had been built on…oil?

For a long time, people have associated Los Angeles with the Hollywood movie industry and the show business stars who live in its best neighborhoods. But before the filmmaking, before the garment industry, and before the orange groves came to the south, the City of Angels was a sleepy town on the Los Angeles River.

The Discovery of Oil Fueled the City’s Growth

Even before the Spanish missionaries arrived, Native Americans in the Los Angeles Basin encountered seeps of tar and natural asphalt, rising up through the ground. It was used for water-proofing boats and baskets, for face-painting, and even to make chewing gum (ick!). Early settlers in the area dug open pit mines to extract some of the black tar. Today, the most famous seep in the area is the La Brea Tar Pits, but occasionally, oil and tar still bubble up from the earth in unexpected places.

In Pico Canyon north of Los Angeles in the 1870s, a hunter named Ramon Peria wounded a deer, which he followed to a spring of oil that was unusually green and thin. The Pennsylvania oil rush was common knowledge by then, so he realized this might be something special. According to various accounts, Peria notified a friend or took a sample of the oil to the local mission. It was of such high quality that he established a claim there. However, he was said to have sold his ownership interest later for a barrel of alcohol and a $20 gold piece.

A few years later, it proved to be much more valuable. The first commercially successful oil well in the Western United States was drilled in Pico Canyon. By 1883, the Pacific Coast Oil Company (which later became Standard Oil of California, and later again Chevron) was producing a huge amount from its 30 oil wells in the region.

The first oil well in Pico Canyon, which lasted for many years. Public Domain.

In 1892, Edward Doheny had the crazy idea to drill in Los Angeles itself. He struck black gold in the vicinity of present-day Dodger Stadium, not far from downtown. Doheny was the first to tap into the Los Angeles City Oil Field. Later, the Beverly Hills, Salt Lake, Inglewood, Long Beach, and Wilmington Oil Fields, as well as others, were developed in the region.

Doheny’s discovery had everyone seeing dollar signs. Neighbors dug wells in their yards. People came in from outside to buy land and try their luck. An industry was formed around this black gold.

The road to Long Beach in the 1940s.

By 1923, Los Angeles was producing one-quarter of the world’s oil. And the city’s population grew rapidly, from only 50,000 residents in 1890 to some 1.2 million people by 1930. (It has about 4 million residents today.)


Gilmore: One of the Most Unique Oil Companies in History

In 1900, “the only oil company in history that everybody liked” was born when a Los Angeles rancher named Arthur Gilmore accidentally struck black gold. That quote comes from Charles Seims, co-author of a book called Roar with Gilmore, who was interviewed in LA Weekly (citation below). He went on to add, “How many companies had circus performers and lion handlers on their payroll?”

Roscoe Turner and Gilmore the Lion. National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian.

Gilmore was the first to discover what became known as the Salt Lake oil field, west of downtown Los Angeles and flowing under part of Beverly Hills. For a few years, Gilmore Oil had gas stations up and down the west coast. They were all somewhat different looking, also using the brand name Red Lion Gas, but lions were a common theme.

Public Domain images.

The company sponsored Roscoe Turner, a celebrity aviator who raced his plane in several air races and tried to break speed records of the time. Beginning in 1930, Turner flew with a lion cub, which they named Gilmore, and the two became a celebrity tandem. Along with the lion, Turner made record East-West and Canada-Mexico flights, finishing fifth in an LA-Chicago derby. The lion cub had his own harness and parachute, a concession to animal rights groups.

Roscoe Turner and Gilmore the Lion. National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian.

They drew huge crowds for their sponsor, Gilmore Oil. The company had other lions and handlers as well. When Gilmore the lion became too heavy to fit in Turner’s plane (after logging 25,000 miles in the air), he still made appearances at Gilmore promotional events, from air shows to move theaters, restaurants, hotels, gold courses, and even movie premiers. The lion finally ended up in a cage at a gas station in Beverly Hills before being moved to a farm where he lived to the ripe old age of 22.

The lion’s body was preserved and now resides at the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian.

There are Still 3,000 Active Oil Wells in Los Angeles

In 2006, criminal charges were filed against an oil company that attempted steam injection at a Los Angeles well to access deeper reserves of oil. The hot injection caused oil to seep up from underground, flooding the basement of a 35-unit apartment building downtown with hot tar. 130 residents had to evacuate their homes, the apartment building was closed for two months, and the company had to siphon out the oil and conduct stabilization work on a nearby street.

Many Los Angeles residents are living on top of an oil field, and that story was just one more reminder of this fact. An oil field runs beneath Staples Center and Los Angeles City Hall. There are oil wells on the campuses of Beverly Hills High School and Mount Saint Mary’s College. And there are a LOT more oil wells all around Los Angeles, some hidden and others in plain view. Here are a few.

Source: Atlantic Magazine.

An oil well on the campus of Beverly Hills High School. Source: Google Street View.

Screenshot (310).png
Is that a synagogue with no windows? Source: Google Street View.

No, it's a cleverly disguised oil well. Source: Google Street View.

Such an interesting office building with no windows (it's actually an oil well, hidden in plain sight). Source: Google Street View.

Others are not so hidden. Source: Google Street View.

Oil wells in Los Angeles. Source: California Department of Conservation (see link in reference section below).

Here is a great video that covers more on LA’s oil wells.


Before Hollywood, the Oil Industry Made LA (NPR): http://www.npr.org/2016/04/05/473107378/before-hollywood-the-oil-industry-made-la

Tracking Tar (Orion Magazine): https://orionmagazine.org/article/tracking-tar/

Seeps in California History (U.S. Geological Survey): https://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/seeps/history.html

Where the Getty family fortune came from (CNN Money): http://money.cnn.com/2015/04/01/news/companies/getty-fortune/

Turner and Gilmore the Flying Lion: http://theflightblog.com/roscoe-turner-gilmore-the-flyin-lion/

Gilmore Oil Company: http://www.laweekly.com/arts/the-bizarre-antics-of-gilmore-the-oil-company-behind-the-original-farmers-market-5325326

Meet the Secret Oil Rigs (Curbed): https://la.curbed.com/2009/11/17/10527704/meet-the-secret-oil-rigs-lurking-in-our-malls-schools-and-nondescript

California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (Doggr), Well Finder: https://maps.conservation.ca.gov/doggr/wellfinder/#close

History of Los Angeles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Los_Angeles#Oil_discovery

Oil Firm Charged in Olive Street Ooze: http://articles.latimes.com/2006/may/26/local/me-ooze26

Top image: California Department of Conservation (see link above)

Authors get paid when people like you upvote their post.
If you enjoyed what you read here, create your account today and start earning FREE STEEM!
Sort Order:  

I used to love going to LaBrea tar pits when I was a kid. In 7th grade I won the science fair at my school and as a reward we got to go backstage at the tar pits. The scientists there showed us the oldest skull they found and lots of other cool stuff. Your article is fantastic!

Great story! Thank you for mentioning the Tar Pits. I touched on them briefly, but probably glossed over them too quickly in the post.


Wish I could. Thanks for the invite though!

Do you still live in L.A.? COME TO A STEEMIT EVENT I'M hosting tonight. :P

Very well done! I worked for KBHome in the early 2000s. We built a 2500 unit subdivision in North OC, near the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda. There were 24 capped wells on site, They brought in 24 feet of soil over the entire complex. There was a perpetual methane flame. I asked the superintendent "are there houses on top of the wells?" He said, "Nope, thats where we put the playgrounds!" It's called Olinda Ranch and is just north of Carbon Canyon Rd.

Wow, that's amazing. Thanks for giving us that story. I've heard about methane flames in the city before, but "that's where we put the playgrounds" is truly a classic line!

Here is the location. I guess they put in a museum... No way I would ever live there, the EIR and disclosures on each home sales contract was 400 pages long...

Now that's some fine print.

This is a great story dawg-boy. I drill oil. There was a site I was on outside of Dallas that was drilled out in the 1950's. The field had laid dormant for a few years but was being brought online as the population grew onto the field. (The closer the homes, the cheaper the pipeline costs).

We pulled into a home development around 4 pm on a Saturday. It had a shiny new model home, parents meeting each other, etc. They watched our trucks pull in like we were the plague. We hooked up hoses, churned generators (PTO's), and started circulating the well.

A woman walks over and asks/tells, "I thought these wells didn't work? That's what the model home lady told us?"

I was polite as I could be. But I had to tell her that we were turning the field on and that this was, in fact, and active field.

@donkeypong great work upvoted and resteemed

Great post, very informative @donkeypong. The lion being preserved was great! I can't believe how they disguise the oil wells haha. Thanks for sharing such great info.

Yes! Lots of disguises on those wells. I had too many pictures for the post, but here's an image of the preserved lion. It's at the Smithsonian Museum, though I don't think it's on public display.


That's awesome @donkeypong I just showed my 11 year old and he made me laugh! he said "is that a lion skateboarding" lol kids I swear these days haha I told him no its a stuffed and preserved lion in a museum. He goes "oh like a teddy bear" lmao
Thanks for sharing :))

Great article. Coming from Europe I didn't knew that many oil wells are in the US, especially this many in the L.A. @donkeypong

Well.. Atleast it looks pretty good :)

This looks pretty much the point of oil wells in Los Angeles
Up to 3000 points may be more but that's not over I think why the US still wants oil wells in the middle east "yeah", whereas the US has Woow, its oil source. :) @donkeypong Good article thank you for sharing

Very true. Meanwhile, the sun shines and creates solar energy. I really wish we could rely more on renewable energy sources than on oil.

Okay one opinion, because the solar energy created by god should be benefited right, imagine how hot our earth is because of the burning of oil, slowly the ozone layer is thinning because the process of burning oil, ozone thinning our skin was burned by the sun, if the process of burning oil in Can accelerate the occurrence of his apocalypse, the earth is drowned by human sweat

That almost reads like poetry. Yes, I agree, it's not clean energy.

This is definitely interesting. I thought this only happened in places like Texas, definitely not in the city or in neighborhoods. A couple of them couldve fooled me for sure.

Yes, and right in the middle of a major city!

Appreciate the hardwork you put in this post.
What made you to write about oil wells where the rest are in and of crypto?
Very nice post with the references you gave, shows the extensive research you made on this craft. Cant wait to comment after reading total post. Liked it and upvoted.

Others are better at writing about those crypto ideas. I get bored, so I seek out other interesting topics.

Be special :-)

Also I'd like to mention from your post the black gold.

Here in my country India, we call Coal as Black Gold

Yes, we use that term also, for both oil and coal.

  ·  2 years ago (edited)

Ohhh.... I learned another new thing in this interaction on your post.

Didn't know that there are so many oil wells in los angeles! Nice post!

I wonder if you can hear anything coming from within the hidden wells. "What the hell are they doing in that synagogue?"

That's a lot of trucks. What are they having, a Bar Mitzvah?

More like a Barrel Mitzvah.

Oh, that's good!!!


I live in Orange County and there's nothing worse than driving down Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach and seeing the power plants on the right side of the road and beautiful oceans on the left hand side. HOWEVER, even when you look to the left, you still see the oil wells out in the ocean in plain site. It's quite sad actually...

Definitely. It's really unfortunate they drilled out there. The Santa Barbara coast is spoiled by that sight also.

Good info. believe it or not we could see how ambitious we have become and on top of that we want to still be conquering every middle eastern country that holds millions of barrels of petroleum.

I bet most of the people living there must know about it.
To me it is quite new though. Really shocked to see where the oil wells are placed on =D

interesting article, what are you thoughts on the dropping oil prices? Do you believe that it's because cars are more efficient or because of fracking and other methods to extract oil for cheap?

Good question. I'm no expert. I hope that the lower demand is resulting from transportation efficiency as well as better technology for extraction.

  ·  2 years ago (edited)

I believe it has to do with OPEC who produces almost half of the worlds oil and how many barrels they're producing daily. Has nothing to do with cars being more efficient imo atleast not right now to impact the prices like they have been in the last few weeks.


Here is a good article to read.

Yeah I think it's because of too much supply maybe from fracking... and the rise of popularity for electric cars... I can't wait when the whole world turns to alternative energy

It could be due to the dropping prices of renewables.

Unfortunately, fracking has become common in parts of California and many water wells have been contaminated by fracking chemicals. In addition, many people living near fracking sites are unaware that they are breathing in evaporated fracking waste.

If you smell something like rotten eggs in the air or your water quality has changed, you should find out if you live near a fracking site.

No one likes to be poisoned.

Good point re: the fracking. And watch out for earthquakes nearby also, if Oklahoma is any indication!

Great info and really well written! I knew LA had once been the center of an oil boom but this is wild! Upvoted for sure!

Dang that was crazy interesting I honestly had no idea. I would hate having a oilwell so close to my house

Very good post and very useful,
Thank you for sharing knowledge.
In our country Aceh, Indonesia. Also the most oil and gas producing areas,

It is always nice to know the history of any city and now I can say that Los Angeles is famous for its oil reserves. Literally I did not knew that before and was thinking it is famous for its advanced lifestyle.

There was a big controversy in the last few years after research was published that the oil fumes from the Pico Canyons was found to have deteriorating affects on the locals' health.


Thank you! I remember reading about that some time ago, but I didn't make the Pico Canyon connection in my mind.

That last basketball picture looks a lot like Century City. I can't believe that they haven't done anything proactive for those communities.

Incidentally, this is probably the reason that people think they smell "smog" as soon as they come out of the airport in LAX.

Quite possible. When they do the steam injections, there are a lot of complaints of more smells.

Very interesting article. My grandfather worked the oil fields all over southern California. The family farm in Pennsylvania was stolen by Getty after oil was found and the family ended up working the oil fields all over the world. I still remember the stink from the wells in Bakersfield in the mid 1950's.

Getty stole the farm? That might be a good subject for a post. Working the oil fields must have been a difficult job back then.

Interesting article. I work in the oil industry and I did not know that. Thank you very much :)

I'm new here, but his is one of the best posts I have seen. Very detailed and incredibly interesting. It is crazy how many are hidden in plane site. You've picked up a new follower. Great post!!!

Welcome aboard the Steem(it) train!

Hey thank's, man. I appreciate it. I just came back because I wanted to finish the video at the bottom. Great post man. I'm serious and not blowing sunshine. This is a good one. I resteemed it for you.

Wow. That is amazing. I have no recollection of hearing about this before. What kinds of health risks do they pose?

I can't imagine any of this is great for the people living in the area.

The water, the air, the soil? For most, I don't think there's any immediate danger, but for those living close to facilities, I'm sure there are more pollutants.

Does this happen outside if the US as well? I have heard that the pollution in Los Angeles is quite bad because of traffic. This can't help matters much.

I have been down to L.A many times, kinda never knew there were, and used to be so many. It is so urbanized now compared to the 1920's but seems its all just build on top of oil wells. The ones they use with the towers built to conceal them are pretty clever indeed.

Thanks for this post. I am from L.A originally and didn't know about some of this rich history.

Also @linniek reminded me of some forgotten memories of going to the LaBrea tar pits as a kid. Seeing those statues and the pit was link a nostalgia punch in the face. :)

California has a lot of reserves of oil, but I think It is preferable to buy oil, to exploit in these lands

This country has an insatiable appetite for oil.

@donkeypong that's true it so sad for the nature

That why there is the Getty museum and hmm clever way to hide those oil wells. Now I have to keep a close eye now.

Wait what..? I didn't know that. So i can live right now on an oil well??
Life is scary man :(
But if seriously.. That's very well made article. Like how you put information together. Cheers man! :d

If you live on a well, then after a while you might look like the guy in your avatar pic. :)

Pfffftt... hahaha :D Damn i'm laughing so hard..
Well.. it's the exact face after finding out that you live on a well! :d

Excellent post! Thank-you! Hey, could I have your permission to repost this over on my website? One of the themes of my site is oil (Rockefellers), and Central Banking/fiat currency.....No problem if you say no to that.....

I'd prefer to keep it on Steemit for now. Maybe later. Thanks.

My grandmother used to own an oil well on Signal Hill (Long Beach). She sold it because it wasn't producing very much. Unfortunately with the latest technology, it could be producing much more now as old wells have been restarted up there.

Yes, apparently the 3,000 active oil wells number is low because more people are dropping rigs in their yards again. It's not the price, but the technology encouraging them this time.

Our oil sources in the US are massive, and we have yet to even tap into most of them.

They can actually access that oil under LA via directional drilling. I would imagine they are holding out because the price of oil is too low right now. That or the residents are too resistant to the idea of drilling underneath their homes. OR its a political play for the US to hold onto all the Aces. :D Or all of the above.

Great post!

I wonder in how many of these they use fracking techniques and how that contributes to the overall seismic activity of the era. From the map you can make the fault line clearly just by following the wells.

There's no fracking in the city that I'm aware of, but not too far away it's possible. Yes, fault lines all over the place there. It's like a sesmic jigsaw puzzle.

That area has been building up for a major one for some time now

There will be blood.....

Black dinosaur blood.

Wow, thats very intressting, had a good time reading it, thanks alot! :)

Very interesting story, I didn't know the about the oil rigs

Interesting article, thanks!

Upvoted and followed. Thank you for your support on my content. i.e. https://steemit.com/tag/@iamwne/sunday-morning-abstract-2

The road to Long Beach looks amazing to me ! Great post, a lot of details and good documented.

great job thank you for these info upvoted

It's amazing for someone like me who is far away from Los Angeles living in Pakistan to understand the history of this magnificent place. I have always loved this place so much that I wish to pay a visit to the city once in my life. Hats off Sir for sharing such a wonderful information with us. I got to know a lot about Oil and its effect in the development of the city of Angels.
I love the Adventures of Native Americans before the arrival of Spanish missionaries and Ramon Peria's wounding of a deer in particular...
All in all, a knowledgeable article :)

U are amazing man @donkeypong
i follow and upvoted you !!!
Please help me out how to get success here

Nice article! I enjoyed reading it! Waiting for more post from you bro!

i think US is hub of oil mills :)

Solid article man, enjoyed it a lot :) I wish you a prosperous life on Steemit!

Fascinating post! I had no idea of this history and wells hidden in plain view. I live in Nebraska and water rights for irrigation are valuable. I recently saw a map of a local county with a black dot marking each well. They might as well have just colored the whole map black with the high density of wells just like your map above.

I could help but think of steem and crypto currency when reading of the sale of the oil claim for alcohol and $20.00.

Wow, such great history and info. It's crazy to see the evolution of the oil wells. Thanks for sharing :)

A very informative article! I read somewhere that there's still a lot of oil available under the Earth's crust, it's just that we haven't yet been able to reach to it. So that's good news.

As the technology improves, someday we shall, and I shall be able to drive my car and ride my motorcycle even when the world is filled with electric vehicles! :P

Thanks for sharing :)

Very interesting article @donkeypong. Can't believe this is such a widely unknown topic. People really need to be asking questions and demand transparency.

Hello my friend . New information about history in The Oil Wells. Thanks for sharing
اخى العزيز ارجو دعمى صفحتى بتصويت
تصويتك شرف كبير على صفحتى . انا اقدر ذلك كثير
شكرا على المساعدة اخى

good blog- i had no idea that oil was so abundant in LA.

Very nice

Please delete this comment or I will flag it. You are plagiarizing directly from other users' comments.

Interesting post! Good job :)

L.A. is built on OIL? hahaha
"Hypocrats": a democrat hypocrite

Nice series ! Thank for sharing @donkeypong
Hopefully more advanced ..

Your post is good, thanks for sharing.
follow me @mr-one

i like

Very interesting post

Great read - it has always been really strange to me, to be pumping gas next to an oil rig, whenever I'm in Long Beach

This is so interesting
I didn't realise how much of an effect oil rigs had on US society and the economy.
Also there are so many! haha

Fascinating article, I never had any idea that they were pumping oil in the middle of L.A. It puts a whole new light on L.A.

great story

There's gold in them there hills

Very intersting buddy ,really appreciate your work

Good informations...

J paul jitty is the world richest man in history
ACCORDING to Guineas book of world record..
Nice information

Awesome post man, i just learned a lot of stuff, gonna read it again, to memorize more. Keep it up

Hey man just wanted to stop by and say thanks for showing love on my last steem, Just started following also is Steemitchat down at the moment?

Never mind Steemchat works now!

You are a great writer, you can tell a complete history.

Great insight and information! Absolutely love the history of the pictures and the 'real view' you give them. I would have had no idea they were connected with oil! I did not know California had that history, you have sparked my interest indeed! It now makes sense how Beverly Hills and those areas began rich and successful. All in that black gold :) Following, looking forward to more, well done!

That's hell a lot of oil indeed. The info is quite interesting for me, haven't even seen such a kind of oil wells ever. Thanks for sharing.

Fantastic article. Following you! Do watch my new series on superstitions too!


thank you for sharing

I want to be like you
I will try and surely be like you and others.
It's just that I'm out of luck and.
It's a very inspiring post.
Thank you sir.
I just need someone who supports me.
Because I am sure I am sure I can be like you :)

How much does it cost to start an oil business, wanna get rich tbh - WHO'S WITH ME ???!!!

Very interesting article. The ignorant I am until now haven't heard about Roscoe, not to mention had no clue there are still so many oil wells in LA....
Thank you for sharing.
...and also thank you for your support! :)

In our area there are also oil wells,
But none of our rich society.
What our society should do to get rich with oil managers.

Cool Post loved learning about LA

I did not realize this about LA's history! I had seen some oil wells out there but not it makes a lot more sense where a lot of the base wealth comes from out there.

i love . its very educational .

No wonder, The oil sources in the US are huge.

Thanks for the interesting info! I appreciate your support! A little gift for you @donkeypong from Ukraine!

Great artical, all info that very few people would know about.

A big warm Steemit Sunday greeting goes out to you Donkey Pong! :-D

Upvoted and High Pawed!


Plus Bonus. :-)



now following

Wow... it took you 40 seconds to read it all... Amazing skills.

anritco was making point about oil price drop. It is natural that price factor comes to mind.
So you can ask for information even if you have not read full article.

@cryptokraze I didn't see any question in @warrenvee comment... did you even read it? I swear it was 40 seconds after the post was made.

I am also saying that you have done nothing wrong.

It's been proven on Reddit that some of the first good comments often get the most votes. But I'll be rewarding the best ones, not the first. :)

You made lot of sense. I usually in opinion that such a posts from most reputed bloggers might have many neglected comments at the end.
So I don't tend to comment my ideas and thoughts on it thinking my comment may fade away in the dust.

You proved and changed my opinion. You value the best one and which make sense. Encouraging like minded people interaction.

Thanks @donkeypong


Sorry didn´t mean to offend you. my apologies.

Very good historical information and I just found out from you after reading the post @donkeypong

Wow.... awesome post. I learned so much. Upvoted and Followed

Hey. I like your post.
Please, check my last story, I hope you would like it! :)

Really interesting read enjoyed it very much
I'm new to this it all seems a bit overwhelming at first but I'm starting to get use to(I think)
Any information or tips would be greatly appreciated

thanks for sharing @donkeypong iam appreciated always ur post ^_^

The are literally every where, nice article I had no idea. Use to live in Dubai and there were quite a out there in random places.