Flashback Fridays: Our very first oil well

Edward L. Doheny (Source: LAPL photo #00028209)

You might know that Los Angeles has a long history of oil (there’s those, you know, La Brea Tar Pits, in case you forgot), but did you know Echo Park is the site of the first Los Angeles oil well?

It was Edward Doheny and Charles Canfield who dug this well in 1892. The story goes, Doheny was in downtown when he saw some guys pushing a heavy cart full of this black, sticky stuff called “brea” (Spanish for “pitch”). The driver told him he had pulled out of a hold near Westlake Park. Learning that the pitch was a fuel replacement for coal, he and Canfield raised money to buy a three-lot parcel at the corner of Patton and State streets, and started digging by hand.

Months later and after 155 feet, the fumes were making everyone sick. They built a crude drilling rig, using a eucalyptus tree trunk, which broke and delays the drilling for weeks until they got the broken rig out of the hole and fixed it. Finally, in March 1893 after 225 feet, the site became the first free-flowing oil well ever drilled in Los Angeles.

“I had found gold and I had found silver and I had found lead,” wrote Doheny, “but this ugly-looking substance… was the key to something more valuable than any or all of these metals.”

They produced 40 barrels per day, selling it for $2 pr barrel (50 cents below market rate). The well pumped for three years, and eventually, Doheny and Canfield expanded their partnership around Los Angeles, making a fortune.

You can read all about it in The Dark Side of Fortune.

Flickr photo via The Eastsider LA

Why show a picture of the Echo Park pool, you ask? Well, the parking lot is the exact site of the oil well. If you are interested in checking out the long history of oil wells in Los Angeles, you might want to read about the urban oil wells bus tour from Spring 2010 led by the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) – there are some interesting sites you might want to visit some day!

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