The Urban Oil Fields of Los Angeles

In the 1890s, the small town of Los Angeles (population 50,000) began a transformation driven by the discovery and drilling of some of the most productive oil fields in history. By 1930, California was producing nearly one quarter of the world's oil output, and its population had grown to 1.2 million. In the decades that followed, many wells closed, but even more opened, surrounded by urban and suburban growth. Machinery was camouflaged, loud noises were abated, methane pockets were vented, as residents learned to live side-by-side with oil production facilities. To this day, oil fields in the Los Angeles Basin remain very productive, and modern techniques have centralized operations into smaller areas or moved offshore. Gathered here are images of some of the sites and machinery still in use among the homes, golf courses, and shopping malls of Los Angeles.
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1. An oil well pumps next to yard containing junked hearses and ambulances near Signal Hill in Long Beach, California, on May 29, 2003. The Signal Hill Oil Field, now known as the Long Beach Oil Field, had the world's highest oil production per acre by the mid-twentieth century. Hundreds of companies and individuals became rich on minute leases, some locations so close that derrick legs overlapped. New housing and stores are now being built among operating oil wells.




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2. A forest of oil derricks sprouts up on the Signal Hill oil field, Long Beach, California, in 1937.




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3. Oil wells in Venice, California, bringing oil up from beach area in 1952.




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4. An oil well pumps in a newly constructed neighborhood near Shell Oil Company Alamitos No. 1 discovery well on Signal Hill in Long Beach, California, on May 30, 2003. Alamitos No. 1 was created in 1921 and helped establish California as one of the world's major oil-producing states.




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5. Inglewood Oil Field, near Culver City. Hundreds of wells dot this nearly 1,000 acre field, the largest contiguous oil-producing site in the Los Angeles area. View on Google Maps.




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6. A pumpjack operates in the parking lot of a McDonald's restaurant in Signal Hill, California.




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7. Pumpjacks in the parking lot of Curley's Cafe, Signal Hill, California.




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8. A single older steel oil derrick in Signal Hill. View on Google Maps.




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9. Old steel derrick towers on a hillside in Brea Canyon. View on Google Maps.




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10. A rig pumps oil from the Inglewood oil field, as visitors enjoy the nearby Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, in the unincorporated Windsor Hills area of Los Angeles, on Friday, February 12, 2010. The Inglewood field, one of the richest oil basins in the world where crude was discovered in 1924, sits adjacent to an area of homes once known as the "black Beverly Hills."




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11. Paul Ferrazzi holds a jar of brown-tinged water from local wells in the unincorporated Windsor Hills area of Los Angeles on February 12, 2010. Rather than eventually playing out and becoming an elaborately planned urban park, a new operator in 2004 began drilling what was planned to be the first of some 600 new wells over the next 20 years, without environmental review.




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12. A new tower undergoes construction among various structures and palm trees that are used to camouflage oil extraction operations on Island White, one of four such oil drilling islands operated by THUMS Long Beach Company, which is owned by Occidental Petroleum Corporation, in Long Beach, California, on July 30, 2013.




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13. An aerial view of Grissom Island, one of four oil drilling islands in San Pedro Bay, off the coast of Long Beach. The four islands contain nearly 1,500 wells, accessible by movable derricks. View on Google Maps.




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14. An oil well pumps in a newly constructed neighborhood near Shell Oil Company Alamitos No. 1 discovery well on Signal Hill in Long Beach on May 30, 2003.




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15. Pumpjacks operate near an on-ramp leaving Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach.




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16. A camouflaged oil derrick (center) in operation beside the athletic fields and buildings of Beverly Hills High School.




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17. A decorated oil derrick looms over Beverly Hills High School, background, and the derrick's service compound in this view from the southwest on February 25, 2003.




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18. The Packard Well Site is a drilling location disguised to look like a nondescript office building from street level. Inside a derrick is free to move about on tracks, accessing any of the 50 wells in operation.




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19. Cardiff Tower, a camouflaged oil drilling site on West Pico Boulevard with 40 active wells in the Beverly Hills Oil Field.




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20. Oil rig pumpjacks extract crude from the Wilmington Field oil deposits area where Tidelands Oil Production Company, which is owned by Occidental Petroleum Corporation (Oxy), operates near Long Beach, California, on July 30, 2013.




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21. Pumpjacks on the Coyote Hills Golf Course (lower right), and among the nearby houses (upper left), in Placentia, California.




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22. Oil wells pump next to the municipal cemetery near Signal Hill on May 29, 2003 in Long Beach, California.




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23. A fenced-off pumpjack operates behind the Signal Hill PetSmart, near Home Depot.




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24. Pumps draw petroleum from oil wells near a home and a limousine in Signal Hill, California, on March 6, 2008.