CV’s Oil Boom of 1927
In the 1920s, Los Angeles was in the grip of oil fever. Oil had always been a part of the natural landscape of Southern California, had been used by the Indians to waterproof their boats and by the Spanish to seal their roofs. It wasn’t until the 1890s that oil was extracted on a commercial scale with Doheny’s first well near downtown Los Angeles. As industry shifted from coal to oil for fuel, the efforts to tap the huge oil reserves under the L.A. area intensified, and by 1923 a quarter of the world’s oil came from Los Angeles.
During this oil boom, a real estate boom was happening as well and the two began to overlap. Stories circulated like that of Orange County farmer Alphonso Bell who, while digging a water well, struck oil and became a millionaire land developer (Bel-Air). Soon every property owner in L.A. was convinced oil could be found under even small suburban lots and the real estate prices spiraled based on speculation. Stocks in non-existent wells were bought and sold and any drilling derrick, producing or not, increased the value of a property. With this gold-rush mentality, swindlers flourished and in 1927 they visited our sleepy valley.
According to the local newspaper, a mass meeting held in the auditorium of La Crescenta Elementary School was attended by an overflow crowd – every seat taken, people standing against the walls, pushing through doors and windows, and trying to hear from the corridor outside. A committee of “local businessmen” had hired a geologist to give a report on his discoveries of oil deposits in the area and he regaled the crowd with stories of oil seepage found at the top of New York Avenue, in Sparr Heights and at the base of the Verdugos near today’s CV Park. Reports highlighted indications of oil found on Collins Hill (at the intersection of Ocean View and the 210 Freeway). Charles Bowden (who had just developed Indian Springs Resort in Montrose) reported hitting oil at eight feet on his property on the northeast corner of Honolulu and La Crescenta! (Note to my editor: That location, Ms. Goldsworthy, is directly beneath the offices of the Crescenta Valley Weekly!)
This meeting was sponsored by Montrose real estate agent Fred Anderson, who was also the head of the committee investigating local oil possibilities. Anderson promised free maps that would show the extent of the massive pool of oil just beneath the surface of the valley. The geologist had reported that a gigantic stream of oil flowed from Newhall, where pumps were already producing, along the base of the San Gabriel Mountains and ending up in the Crescenta Valley. Anderson warned that local properties where oil had just been discovered had already been taken off the market and were no longer for sale! However he’d be happy to set up a private meeting with the geologist and anyone interested in buying or selling potential oil-bearing property.
It can be assumed by the lack of further news articles on the subject that the “geologist” melted away and that after the “local businessmen” had made a tidy profit off the brief spike in local real estate prices, embarrassed investors who had been taken in the deal had quietly dropped the whole matter.
At the same time, over on the Tujunga side, con artists actually set up a working derrick by Foothill Boulevard near the Big Tujunga Wash. One old-timer who remembered the operation told me years ago that the derrick only operated on the weekends, when motorists from L.A. out for a pleasant Sunday drive were likely to see it working. Presumably shares in the well could be bought on the spot and I’m sure investors were shocked to find the dry well abandoned several weeks later.
If you’re interested in the possibility of oil beneath your property, the Historical Society will have a program on the “Geology of CV” this Monday at 7 p.m. at the Center for Spiritual Living at Dunsmore and Santa Carlotta. Sorry – there is no oil – just lots and lots of rocks.