by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The oil industry got its start locally in 1865, just six years after the first producing wells in America were tapped at Titusville, Pennsylvania, with drilling in the mountains north of Los Angeles where Interstate 5 leads into Santa Clarita today. For about a decade, there was significant activity in what was called the San Fernando field, including significant investment by F.P.F. Temple, who had a few wells there and built an early refinery in the area.
The failure of the Temple and Workman bank, however, ended his work, which appeared to be moving into a positive direction, with some crude production taking place with one of his wells before the bottom fell out of his finances in 1875-76. That latter year, however, Star Oil Company hit it big with a well in that region and really ushered in the regional oil industry.
In 1885, Los Angeles businessman William Lacy and former sheriff William R. Rowland found success on a portion of land the latter inherited a dozen years before from his father, John Rowland, co-owner with William Workman of Rancho La Puente. In the Puente Hills, there was a particularly productive pocket of crude that the two men parlayed into the Puente Oil Company, which built a refinery in the new town of Chino.
Charles Canfield and Edward Doheny, recent arrivals to Los Angeles working with very limited capital and primitive drilling equipment brought in, in 1892, the first well in the Los Angeles oil field, situated west of downtown Los Angeles. Both men went on to staggering success in the industry and Doheny, especially, became singularly identified with oil in greater Los Angeles.
One of his first projects after the Los Angeles field was opened up was a partnership with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad on a property in northeastern Orange County called the Olinda Ranch. In 1897, Doheny struck oil on the slopes of the Chino Hills and ushered in Orange County’s first successful field.
With the Puente and Olinda fields being along a west-to-east line in the Puente and Chino hill ranges, the race was on to find new areas of crude deposits in that area. Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a “Map of the Whittier-Olinda Oil Field,” produced in 1912 by the California State Mining Bureau.
By then, the Puente field was a quarter-century old, while Olinda had been in existence for fifteen years. A look at the map shows how intensively and rapidly prospecting efforts had been made in the area over those years. It shows some of the old Spanish and Mexican era ranchos, like La Puente, Rincon de la Brea [the word brea, or tar, was an obvious sign that crude was to be found in the area, which includes modern Brea Canyon where the 57 Freeway runs today], and Santa Ana del Chino (or, simply, Chino). For some reason the ranchos La Habra and Paso de Bartolo (Whittier) are not shown by name, but were within the map’s boundaries.
The densest concentrations of wells were on the directional ends of the map; in other words, a great deal of activity took place in the first dozen years of the 20th century and a bit earlier in the Whittier area, as well as at the east end in Olinda. The Whittier field at that time was mainly developed just east of town, southeast of Turnbull Canyon, just over the hill from modern Hacienda Heights [created just after this map was made as North Whittier Heights] and east to what is now the Murphy Ranch area of the city.
Among the companies working the field were ones that have been long forgotten: Home, Central, Colorado, Canadian Pacific, Whittier Crude and the Murphy Oil Company. Wells that were producing were solid circles; those that were drilling had a single angled line through them; and those abandoned had a cross over the circle.
Just beyond the area of heightened activity in the Whittier portion were other areas that were leased or owned by others, including Union Oil, which started in Santa Paula in Ventura County, Fullerton Oil, East Whittier Oil, and Josiah Whitcomb Hudson, who was married to a half-sister of William Rowland. Union would become a major player in the area in coming decades with substantial success in the fields encompassed in the map.
The Puente portion of the field was in a section of Rancho La Puente that was a southern indentation in the Puente Hills and that was almost certainly a big surprise to Rowland, who previously grazed, as did his father for thirty years before him, cattle and horses in the hills.
In addition to the Puente Oil Company and Rowland’s portion of the ranch, there are three other parcels and owners, including a section owned by Los Angeles merchant Louis Polaski, a partner of Leander C. Goodwin of a general store. Both men also got involved in banking in town.
Another tract was owned by Francisco Grazide, a French Basque sheepherder who married into the Rowland family and his parcel and one of Rowland’s was worked by the Pico Oil Company. The Pico wound up being consolidated with Puente Oil not long before this map was created.
Within the rancho is a single well marked as being worked by the W.B. Scott Oil Company. William Benjamin Scott was a brother-in-law of one the founders of Union Oil and later had the Columbia Oil Company with him, as well as other oil companies.
Scott and Rowland partnered with Harry Chandler of the Los Angeles Times in oil ventures and purchased land about 1914 in the upper right corner of the map in what was the original Brea Canyon (as shown on the map) and is now known as Tonner Canyon.
That land became known as Tres Hermanos Ranch (the trio being the “three brothers” in the name), owned by the City of Industry from 1978 and recently the subject of a joint powers authority agreement in which that city will share the ownership and management with Chino Hills and Diamond Bar. In fact, tomorrow night, I’ll share the history of Tres Hermanos with a group in San Dimas and post something about that after the talk is finished.
Pico Oil and another Scott firm, Orange Oil had tracts just outside the southern boundary of the Rancho La Puente and along the line dividing Orange from Los Angeles counties, which runs straight along the west to east orientation of the map (you can also see that 40 acres of Rancho La Puente are within Orange County.) Puente Oil, meanwhile, had large tracts to the east running through Brea Canyon and had several parcels in the Olinda field.
Olinda was an especially active field in these years with a large resident work force of well over a thousand persons, including the employees of several companies working the area. These include Graham-Loftus (another company with connections to Union as S.C. Graham was married to the sister of a Union owner), Scott’s Columbia Oil, Industrial Oil Company, the Santa Fe railroad (the Y at the bottom of the detail below is a spur line built by the railroad to connect to the Olinda field’s center of activity where the Olinda Ranch subdivision is in Brea just west of Carbon Canyon), Fullerton Oil, and the Olinda Land Company.
This latter was the owner of the area from the mid-1880s before oil was found by Doheny and was created by William H. Bailey, the son of missionaries on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Bailey tried to subdivide the ranch for farm tracts and a town of Carlton during the Boom of the 1880s, but did not find much success there. He held on, however, until oil was found and reaped the benefit.
This map is a fascinating document of the oil industry in the region not far from the Homestead and was created the year Walter P. Temple sold his family’s homestead in the Whittier Narrows and moved a little west to a portion of the Montebello Hills and flat land adjacent to it on the east.
Less than two years later, Temple’s nine year-old son, Thomas, accidentally found indications of oil that led to a lease with Standard Oil Company of California. In June 1917, the first well on the Temple lease came in and ushered the family into significant wealth quickly.
Walter Temple then embarked on a wide range of oil prospecting projects in Mexico, Texas, Alaska and several areas of greater Los Angeles, including Huntington Beach, Signal Hill (near Long Beach), Ventura, and Whittier. He did not achieve the success in his personal endeavors that Standard found, for several years, at his lease in Montebello and his fortune was exhausted by the Great Depression years. Still, for about fifty years, he and his father were among many of the region’s major oil seekers.