Tag Archive for: oil wells

Our friends at the LA History Twitter page have reminded us that today is November 4! What the heck does that mean, you ask?

You guessed it: Oil!

Or maybe you didn’t. It’s kind of a weird part of LA History to embrace, but, as we wrote about recently, the very first oil well was actually here in Echo Park. It was November 4, 1892 when Edward Doheny and Charles Canfield dug this well at the site of what is now the Echo Park Pool. This discovery launched an oil boom in Los Angeles, so today is an interesting, and important, day in our history.

Currently, there are just a handful of oil wells compared to what it used to be (see photo of the Belmont oil field below). In fact, there’s a Google map Urban Oil Wells existing in Los Angeles – check it out by clicking here. To put things in perspective, here’s an 1906 map of oil fields in Los Angeles:

Source: Library of Congress

I’ve added the blue dot to indicate Echo Park Lake, the orange dot indicates the Los Angeles River (it’s a little tough to read). All the little black dots are oil fields (not just individual wells, oil fields).

Belmont Oil Field, date unknown

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!