All Over the Map While Drilling for Black Gold with a “Map of the Montebello—Whittier Oil Fields,” 1918/1921, Part One

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A good deal has been said about the impending demise of the internal combustion engine era and, however that may play out, there is no doubt that, since around 1860 when the earliest examples were created, the engine revolutionized life in many ways, though there have also been environmental consequences leading to the current assessment of its projected end.

Just about a century ago, however, greater Los Angeles was not just a car-crazed capital, but also one of the great oil producing regions of the period and Walter P. Temple just one of many oil prospectors in our region. His father, F.P.F., was an early oil company owner with wells he drilled in the mountains near modern Santa Clarita in the early 1870s. Walter was the beneficiary of an astounding discovery made by his nine-year-old son Thomas in 1914 near the family home in the Montebello Hills (land which father owned four decades and more prior) and then, with significant wealth derived from wells drilled and worked by Standard Oil Company (California) from 1917 and afterward, turned to becoming a producer, albeit on a small scale compared to the big players of the era.

The entirety of the map, which is about 2 feet high and 4 feet wide.

The Montebello field was one in which major production took place over a relative short period of time because of the generally shallow character of its deposits, so the big money was made by Temple in the first several years and then gradually declined through latter years of the 1920s. In 1918, however, the highlighted artifact from the Museum’s collection for this post, a large-format “Map of the Montebello—Whittier Oil Fields” was created by the industry publication The Oil Age, of which one issue was the subject of a prior post here. The map, though, was corrected to 5 December 1921 and reissued and it is a fascinating document of the subject oil fields and surrounding areas.

A prior owner made many inscriptions in red ink and pencil on the map, clearly related to activity within a large area of the covered region with the addition of some well sites and names of drillers (Pan-American, Interstate, California Pacific, Rowland and Standard are among those identified.) Original identifiers include subdivisions of ranches, including town sites, lots and acreage contained within them, and owners of many of these properties, including individuals, companies and, in some cases, cities.

A detail near the Arroyo Seco and Los Angeles River confluence with the tracts to the north of that near Mt. Washington.

Because of the focus of the broader “Montebello—Whittier” fields, it is striking to see, at the far left, or west, side of the map, sections of Los Angeles from about where Mt. Washington is located north of downtown, south to the Plaza and then further to Boyle Heights and then towards Vernon, but with very few specifics. Actually, in the first, there are several large identified tracts, including Grand View Terrace and sections owned by Annie Winter and others; the Riverside Heights Company, the Glassell Development Company, C.Q. Stanton and others, while across the Arroyo Seco and Pasadena Avenue, part of which is the northern extension of Figueroa Street, are other parcels in the Highland Park section owned by the Highland Park Development Company, F.A. McNeil and a couple of others.

The Plaza is denoted at the left edge with just a few surrounding streets and rail lines, including Alameda Street (and the Southern Pacific line built by the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad), North Broadway, San Fernando Street and Macy Street turning into Brooklyn Avenue (now César Chávez Avenue) in Boyle Heights. To the south is Hollenbeck Park and a few surrounding streets, such as Boyle Avenue, Cummings Street, Hollenbeck Street and, to the north, First Street and to the south, Stephenson Avenue, which became Whittier Boulevard.

Noe the Plaza at the far left edge north of center and Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights near the center.

At the upper part, left of center are wide areas of northeast Los Angeles north of Huntington Drive where the Monterey Hills and northern El Sereno neighborhood, while most of the latter south of Huntington Drive and north of Alhambra Avenue (Valley Boulevard) along with the Ascot Hills and the eastern end of Lincoln Heights (Lincoln Park is denoted) are also included with many tracts indicated, including with some of the red-ink markings, such as the expansive Navarro Tract (where a Navarro Street is now) and those owned by Martin Lifur and the heirs of Joseph Batz (that family long owned a ranch called the Rosa de Castilla.

South of Alhambra Road/Valley Boulevard is Grider and Hamilton’s Floral Park tract, formerly part of the Rosa de Castilla ranch, much of which is comprised of Cal State Los Angeles and the surrounding neighborhood. Further southwest of that is Tract 1426 with the Huntington Land and Improvement Company (founded by the rail and real estate tycoon and books, manuscripts and art collector, Henry Huntington) and Amalgamated Oil Company shown as owners or lessees. Much of this section is the City Terrace neighborhood, east of Los Angeles city limits, with a curving road denoted as Pomona Boulevard now known as City Terrace Drive (though some of that road curves westward north of what is now Interstate 10 and is no longer extant.

This detail includes portions of El Sereno, Highland Park and nearby areas.

East of Tract 1426 are large tracts owned by Huntington’s son, Howard, the prominent banker Isaias W. Hellman (who died in 1920) and Wheat & De Freest with Monterey Pass Road extending northeast from what was then newly laid out as Belvedere Gardens and is now East Los Angeles. In the expansive Hellman parcels is the name Repetto, this being the former lands of Alessandro Repetto, a native of Genoa, Italy, who acquired former pre-American public lands in the hills of what became Monterey Park and who was a victim of famed bandido Tiburcio Vásquez in 1874 in a burglary that involved the Temple and Workman bank. Included in this domain is where East Los Angeles College, Belvedere Community Regional Park and areas down to 3rd Street/Pomona Boulevard and bisected by the 60 Freeway.

East of the Hellman tracts are areas largely comprised of land owned by the City of Pasadena as well as the Tri-City Sewer Farm and the St. Helens Riverside Portland Cement Company, with most of this area . 3rd Street’s extension into Pomona Boulevard, which now runs along the north side of the 60 Freeway leads to the northeast continuation of what is now Potrero Grande Drive. These sections, as the map indicates, are within the city of Monterey Park, parts of which were known as Ramona Acres at the time. Coming in at a sharp triangular point, where the Chloe P. Canfield Memorial Home is denoted is the westerly limit of Rancho La Merced—more on that below. The Canfield institution, named for the wife (murdered in 1906) of oil magnate Charles Canfield, who, with Edward L. Doheny, opened the Los Angeles Oil Field in the early 1890s and also founded the Pan-American oil company noted above, was established by the Canfield daughters as a girls’ training school and it later became a convent.

Here we see sections of East Los Angeles, City of Commerce and Vernon near Calvary Cemetery and the adjoining Jewish burial grounds among other areas.

Moving to the lower left part of the map, there are many tracts south of 3rd Street, a small portion of which is within Los Angeles city limits but much of which is in the City of Commerce, below the railroad line marked as “S.P.,L.A.&S.L.R.R.,” which stands for the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, completed in the early 1900s by mining tycoon William Andrews Clark and which line ran south of the Homestead on its way east—a few years after the map was created, the line was absorbed by the Union Pacific. Bisecting that track is the “Anaheim Telegraph Road” now simply Telegraph Road, which is shown crossing Pasadena Avenue, this being Eastern Avenue before making a turn north where Downey Road is now and terminating at Whittier Boulevard, north of which is a large area with the number “6” in it and this is the location of the Calvary, Home of Peace, Mt. Zion and Beth Israel cemeteries.

To the right of Pasadena/Eastern Avenue and below 3rd Street are tracts with the names of Robert Monroy Bandini (this a famous early California family), Linden L. Boone, Marion Winston et. a;., Winter Investment Company, George E. Platt, Jean J. Carrillo and others comprising large swaths of East Los Angeles. Large open tracts including some of Hellman’s land as well as parcels of the John D. Bicknell (a lawyer and real estate developer) Estate, Carroll W. Gates and David Babbitt encompass areas to the Montebello tract limits, with the angled line at the west end of the Gates and Babbitt tracts, bisected by Whittier Boulevard, looking to be Goodrich (named for the tire company’s massive local plant) Boulevard in parts of Commerce and East Los Angeles. Sections south of the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake line including a portion of the line of “The A.T. & S.F. Ry. Co.,” this being the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, known commonly as the Santa Fe, are within an industrial island in the city of Bell, the northeastern corner of Vernon and portions of Commerce.

Locales in this section include City Terrace, East Los Angeles, and Monterey Park with the 710 Freeway today running top to bottom near the center and the 60 just below the bottom. Cal State Los Angeles is at the top near the center with Interstate 10 today going left to right near the top.

Underneath the map’s title box, which, incidentally, explains only two initialized names, that of the Commonwealth Petroleum Company (C.W. Pet. Co.) and Walter Temple (W.T.), are parts of Alhambra, Rosemead and sections of Monterey Park with the aforementioned subdivisions of Ramona Park Acres (where Temple invested at the prime corner of Garvey and Garfield avenues, near the ranch of Richard Garvey, who died in 1930 and whose namesake son’s name is attached to the headquarters where Garvey Ranch Park is situated now.

Tract No. 701, south and east of the Garvey Ranch, is now the little city of South San Gabriel, this being just north of the Montebello Hills and south of Rosemead, while to the east is the Rancho Potrero Grande encompassing most of South El Monte. South of the Garvey Ranch, meanwhile, is an area marked with Union Oil Company and the Valley View Land and Water Company and this is also within Monterey Park.

Monterey Park is at the center where Ramona Acres was an early name for part of the city and the Garvey Ranch comprising much of the community. At the lower right is Tract 701 comprising today’s South San Gabriel, while portions of Rosemead are at the top right and parts of Alhambra at the top left.

The areas described to this point comprise roughly the left (west) half of the map and almost all of which, excepting the aforementioned triangular shaped left end of Rancho La Merced, are outside of the subject area, being the Montebello and Whittier oil fields. There is plenty of interest in these sections, but the real action is mostly confined in the right (east) half, though more precisely in the lower right (southeast) portion of it. Tomorrow, we’ll return with part two and look at the outlying areas to the upper right (northeast) including where Arcadia, Duarte, El Monte, Temple City and portions east of the San Gabriel River just west of the Homestead and up to Baldwin Park are situated, and then turn to the heart of the map, including lands long associated with the Workman and Temple families. Please join us then!

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