September 12, 2011

Photo Essay: California's First Commercial Oil Well & Abandoned Company Town (Updated for 2021)

[Last updated 1/30/21 1:25 PM PT—Pioneer Oil Refinery site update at bottom]

After all of my travels up and down the 5, through such oil towns like Taft, and everyday in Los Angeles pass oil wells that have been well hidden or decommissioned... seemed appropriate that I take a hike in Pico Canyon, site of California's first commercial oil well (a.k.a. Pico Well No. 4), which struck "black gold" in 1876 after three prior drilling attempts failed.

The big tourist stop in Pico Canyon is Mentryville, a veritable ghost town of California's commercial oil history, named after Charles Mentry...

...the Pennsylvanian Frenchman oil driller of Star Oil Works Company (which would eventually become Standard Oil and then Chevron).

circa 2018

The oil business in Pico Canyon was still going strong by the time that Mentry died of typhoid fever in 1900...

circa 2018

...and although Mentryville never extended beyond its status as a company town...

circa 2018 many as 26 families lived there, according to the 1910 census.

The oil boom declined throughout the 1920s and 1930s (when some folks dismantled their houses to take with them when they moved out)...

...but surprisingly, Pico No. 4 didn’t actually get capped until 1990!

circa 2018

That made it the longest continually operating oil well in the world.

In addition to Mentry's 13-room mansion and the historic barn...

circa 2018

...there are lots of other buildings...

...some restored and others looking downright abandoned.

Many appear to be of an industrial nature...

...or maybe even a movie set (which the yellow "Movie House" actually is, built here for the Disney movie One Magic Christmas in 1984).

circa 2018

But there's also a one-room schoolhouse from 1885...

...and piles of rusty equipment.

The canyon itself features an old creek bed, now dried up...

...but in wet seasons, they say you can still spot tar flowing in the creek.

Managed by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, not far from Six Flags Magic Mountain...

... Pico Canyon offers a nice climb to a lovely vista...

And plenty of old relics.

Most of the hike is along a recently-paved service road, so it's an easy hike until the steep, unpaved final portion beyond most of the oil history vestiges.

But for someone like me, who wants to get out of the city a little bit, get dirty a little bit, get deserty a little bit, it's a perfect little retreat on a hot weekend day.

circa 2017

P.S. The crude oil from Pico Canyon was piped to the former Pioneer Oil Refinery...

circa 2017 the area formerly known as Needham Ranch...

circa 2017 known as Newhall.

circa 2017

The site, located off Pine Street next to the railroad tracks just north of Gates King Open Space, is California State Historical Landmark that's owned by The City of Santa Clarita.

Update 1/30/21 1:23 PM PT—The Pioneer Oil Refinery, built in 1876 by California Star Oil Works (which eventually became Chevron), has been added to the National Register for Historic Places and is being converted into a park. 

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Ed Davis Park at Towsley Canyon
Photo Essay: The Ruins of Santa Fe Springs

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