When Oil Derricks Ruled the L.A. Landscape | KCET
When Oil Derricks Ruled the L.A. Landscape
Oil extraction is still big business in the Southland, but today locating signs of the industry can require a careful eye. Wells hide in plain sight as office buildings or masquerade offshore as tropical islands. In the back of the Beverly Center shopping mall, one quietly sips from the earth behind a nondescript wall.
But the wells were not always so clandestine.
Through much of the 20th century, oil derricks towered over homes, schools, golf courses, and even orange groves across the Los Angeles Basin, once among the nation's top-oil producing regions. Beginning in 1892, when Edward L. Doheny and his associates opened the region's first free-flowing well, each new strike would quickly attract a cluster of the wooden structures, which supported the drills that bored deep into the Southland's sedimentary strata.
One such thicket rose atop previously barren Signal Hill in 1921. Workers at a Shell Oil drilling site had hit a gusher that sprayed dark, crude oil more than 100 feet into the air. Because the surrounding land had recently been subdivided for a residential development, would-be homeowners elected to build oil wells on their tiny parcels instead of houses, creating a dense forest of wooden derricks.
Landscapes across the Los Angeles Basin witnessed similar overnight transformations as oil companies jockeyed to drain the region's rich petroleum fields, deposited tens of millions of years ago on what was once a sea floor and then buried under thousands of feet of accumulated sediments.
But perhaps nowhere was the change as striking as at the region's beaches, where the industrial landscape of oil extraction encroached on the Southland's carefully crafted image of perpetual summer. In Orange County's Huntington Beach, political concerns kept the wells on the land, where they formed a sort of palisade along the shore. And just east of Santa Barbara at the evocatively named Summerland beach, piers stacked with oil derricks stretched into the Pacific, standing firm against the crashing surf.
This post was first published on KCET.org on August 11, 2011, as "Photos: How Oil Wells Once Dominated Southern California's Landscape." An expanded and updated version was subsequently published on August 6, 2015, and a different version was published on Gizmodo's Southland in November 2013.
Venice has been in a state of perpetual renaissance since tobacco heir Abbot Kinney founded the seaside resort town in 1905. And yet traces of its past stubbornly persist in street names, artworks and the built environment.
How are ideas about design, art, the global economy and urban planning tied to the concept of work? UCLA professors Willem Henri Lucas, Catherine Opie, Alfred Osborne and Abel Valenzuela discuss "What is Work?"
The Tolowa Dee-ni’ people, who have fished and tended the Northwestern California coast for time immemorial, are collaborating with western scientists at state agencies to monitor ocean toxicity in shellfish.
The founders of mak’amham and Café Ohlone in the Bay Area want to bring back Indigenous ways and honor the ancestors who preserved traditions in the face of colonization.
- 1 of 105
- next ›