Pioneer Oil Refinery History


The Pioneer Refinery in the early 1880's when it was still in use


Most of the information for the following history was taken from Gerald White’s “Formative Years in the Far West” (1962). It is the definitive account of the early history of the Chevron Oil Company and of the Newhall Oil District. White did an incredible amount of research for the book. If you are interested in the oil history of this area, it is a must read. The story of the refinery is a little more involved then I expected. The history of the refinery was entwined with the early history of Chevron. The following is a condensed, although still long, version. Any errors or omissions are my fault.



The Need for Refineries

In the 1850’s bituminous (asphalt) seepages were found to be relatively common along the coast and, the area of our interest, in the Santa Susana Mountains of northwestern Los Angeles County, which included Pico, DeWitt, Towsley, Wiley, and Rice canyons. Men believed that bitumen was potentially a valuable mineral for use as a construction for flooring and roofing and even paving streets. Even more valuable would be for the manufacturing of oil for lighting and for lubricants. Refineries would be necessary for the success of the California oil industry. Refining is the process where the oils of different gravity, which the crude oil is made of, are separated from each other at their respective points of vaporization.

Predecessors

The Fourth Annual Report of the State Mineralogist for the Year Ending May 14, 1884 reports that before 1856 Andres Pico knew about the oil seeps in Pico Canyon and and had made a small amount of refined oil for the San Fernando Mission using a small copper still and condenser. The Fourth Report also states that, in 1856, a San Francisco company had a small, short-lived refinery on the Brea Ranch near Los Angeles. In 1857, druggist Charles Morrell produced coal oil from crude oil near Carpenteria. Evidently, his set-up included retorts and furnaces with the crude oil being refined by distillation. But for some reason, he failed. In 1860-61, George T. Gilbert was nearly successful with his refineries first in Los Angeles county and then in Ventura county. See here for an article in the Daily Alta California for May 26, 1865, about Gilbert. Other refineries followed later in the 1860’s, but they were also unsuccessful. The Buena Vista Refinery in McKittrick, California, operated between August of 1864 and April of 1867. See here for information on that refinery. It had one still with a capacity of 300 gallons and shipped about 4000 gallons of illuminating oil to San Francisco before going out of business due to excessive transportation costs. It was evidently commercially successful for three years.

Here is a description of early refining from "Resources of the Pacific Slope" by J. Ross Browne (San Francisco, I.H. Bancroft and Company, 1869, pp. 261-262):
Between 1865 and 1867, Hayward & Coleman, a firm in the oil business in San Francisco, made 40,000 gallons of illuminating oil from springs of petroleum near Santa Barbara; but suspended operations in June, 1867, because imported oil was selling at 54 to 55 cents per gallon, a price so low as to render the manufacture unprofitable, owing to the high price of cases to contain it, transportation, and labor.

Stanford Brothers have also expended capital and labor in efforts to manufacture oil from California petroleum, and have succeeded so far as to make oil; but not with profit. Up to July, 1867, this firm had made 100,000 gallons of illuminating oil, and a nearly equal quantity of lubricating, and have been making about 20,000 gallons of illuminating per month, since. Their works are still in operation.

This firm purchase the crude oils from several localities, but obtain their chief supply from tunnels and pits near San Buenaventura. The high cost of vessels to contain the oil when made; of transportaion and interest on capital, and the low prices ruling for the imported article, are impediments to the successful development of this resource.

The Buena Vista Company made about 4,000 gallons of illuminating oil at their works near the springs, and other companies made more or less. Nearly a dozen companies had stills in operation for a short time. Mr. Stott has made about 5,000 gallons at San Francisco. Mr. Williams, of the same place, has also made about the same quantity. Altogether it is safe to estimate the quantity of California made coal oil at 175,000 gallons. The capacity of the stills for making it is sufficient to turn out 100,000 gallons per month.

The idea that the manufacture of California petroleum may yet be made profitable is not abandoned. A company was organized at San Francisco as recently as September, 1867, with a capital of $1,250,000, for the purpose of working petroleum and asphaltum deposits.
By 1870, only the small firm of George Pettit and the larger firm of Allyne & White were still operating.

People were realizing that the claims of easy oil were not true. The folded and faulted rocks of California were totally different from the soft, horizontal strata of Pennsylvania. The chemical characteristics of the thick, black, heavy California oil was also much different then the Pennsylvania oil. It was already proving nearly impossible to commercially refine.

Gelcich

In February of 1872, Dr. Vincent Gelcich (a doctor and coroner of Los Angeles who had been trying to get rich in oil for nearly 10 years and was part owner of a claim in Rice Canyon) tried to promote the oil of the Pico region in San Francisco. He was well received in the press, but was ignored by the capitalists who could raise the necessary money to form a company that Gelcich hoped to be involved with.

Gelcich returned to Los Angeles. In April of 1873, the “Los Angeles Star” newspaper carried a story that a driller in Rice Canyon (James Renaud) had wired Gelcich claiming that they had struck big oil. Gelcich visited the canyon and reported not only that he had bought out his partners, but that he was also sending in additional men to speed up the work.

Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company

Gelcich and the other oilmen knew that a refinery in Los Angeles would greatly aid their cause (of becoming wealthy) and, in May, he started a campaign for a refining company with a letter to the “Los Angeles Star”. The Star's editor supported Gelcich's effort claiming profits of 70% were possible. This lead to the formation of the Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company on July 30, 1873, with an authorized capital of $300,000 divided into 3000 shares. The original shareholders included F.P.F. Temple, a pioneer banker with a claim in Towsley Canyon; E. F. Beale, who seemed to be involved in everything; Colonel Robert S. Baker; Pio Pico, last Mexican governor of California and brother to Andres Pico; and, of course, Vincent Gelcich. Banker Temple became the president.

However, first an adequate supply of crude oil had to be found for the refinery. Colonel Baker came to the rescue by agreeing to give the refinery Pico oil for free. He, like Gelcich and the others, hoped to get rich with oil.

Lyon's Station Refinery

At the close of 1873, the Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company broke ground for a refinery at Lyon's Station. Lyon's Station sat on the north-south freight and stage route and was the probable location for a future railroad. This made it a good location for the refinery. Captain William B. Smith was contracted to set up the refinery. Here are some newspaper accounts from that time:
"The next steamer will bring the machinery for a small oil refinery, which will be located at Lyon's Station. Captain W.P. Smith is the Superintendent. He thinks the San Fernando range of mountains will supply any quantity of raw material." - Los Angeles Herald 12/7/1873

"The refinery equipment goes out to Lyon's Station on Monday." - Los Angeles Herald 12/20/1873

"The oil refinery is progressing, and will soon be in operation." - Los Angeles Herald 12/28/1873

It is "located in a very convenient spot about a hundred rods [1650 feet] from the Station, at the base of the hill." - Los Angeles Herald 1/13/1874

"The oil refinery is progressing finely. Dr. Gelcich reports to us that the machinery is rapidly being put in place, and that in a short time it will be ready for operation. The doctor is enthusiastic in his faith in the oil region, and thinks that the day is not far distant when the San Fernando regions will be as famous as the great oil country of Pennsylvania." - Los Angeles Herald 1/22/1874

"Capt. Smith of the Petroliopolis Oil Refinery is in town. He reports everything progressing favorably, and the prospects good. The Refinery will be ready in about three weeks. He sends out a lot of material today." - Los Angeles Herald 1/28/1874

"The Petroleum Refinery at Lyons Station is rapidly approaching completion, and in a few days will be ready to demonstate that in the San Fernando Oil Springs we have the grandest deposits of oleaginous wealth to be found in the world." - Los Angeles Herald 2/20/1874

"Mr. Smith, Superintendent of the San Fernando oil refinery, reports that it will be in operation in about two weeks. The construction and thorough outfitting of a refinery is necessarily slow work, but Mr. Smith says that when the establishment is done, the manufacture of oil will be vigorously carried on." - Los Angeles Herald 3/5/1874
The refinery was completed in April, 1874, at a cost of about $3000 and was equipped with a single 15-barrel (630 gallon) still that had been built in San Francisco in 1873. Wooden flumes were installed for running the crude from storage tanks and a pipeline supplied water from a nearby spring. Wood was used as fuel. The refinery was supposedly designed by Vincent Gelcich.
"Dr. Gelcich informs us that the coal oil company will today send into the city one thousand gallons of oil from their refinery. The oil will be for sale at the store of Mr. Childs, on Los Angeles street." - Los Angeles Herald 4/14/1874
In April, operation of the refinery started. Crude oil was hauled by wagons from the wells at Pico Canyon, a distance of about 8 miles. Early optimistic reports became silent in a few months. Caption Smith had obviously failed and the refinery was shut down in early 1875.

Things looked bad for the oilmen, but in stepped one Rudolfo Carreras who had a magic process where crude oil could be poured into the top of a "black box" and clear, refined oil flowed out of the bottom. Over 96 percent of the crude oil was changed to refined oil, a yield way better than conventional methods. Needless to say, after a few months, the amazement wore off. It was too good to be true and it wasn't. Now there was no refinery and no magic process.

In March, 1875, Denton Cyrus Scott arrived in Los Angeles from San Francisco. He was originally from Pennsylvania. Within a few weeks his partner John G. Baker also arrived from the oil fields of Pennsylvania. They decided to get into the refining business and easily obtained a lease to the shut-down refinery at Lyon's Station from the financially troubled Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company. Scott also got permission from Colonel Baker to drill for oil at Pico Springs in return for 1/8th of the oil. Colonel Baker was one of the claim holders along with E. F. Beale, Sanford Lyon, and others.

Star Oil Works

On May 3, 1875, Scott and Baker formed the Star Oil Works. They hired William Schumacher (sometimes spelled as Shoemaker) as their refiner. He claimed of having more than 16 years experience in the East. After securing more money from F.P.F. Temple and another partner (Nathaniel J. Clarke), they hired experienced driller Charles A. Mentry to manage the drilling in Pico Canyon. Scott had known Mentry in Pennsylvania. By the end of 1875, Mentry had completed three wells.

However, the finances of the Star Oil Works were suffering. Besides losing much of their financing (Clarke had stopped his support), Schumacher was having no success with the refinery at Lyon's Station and left in October of 1875.

Robert C. McPherson had been a visitor to the Star Oil Works in June of 1875 and was impressed with the prospects of the region. He was an agent for Farrar & Trefts of Buffalo, New York, manufacturers of engines (there’s one in Towsley Canyon) and boilers. He returned to his base in San Francisco, traveled east to purchase new oil equipment, returned, and started the San Francisco Petroleum Company in December with several other capitalists. He deeded his new company 200 acres in mining claims in Pico Canyon which he owned.

While back east, McPherson also recruited a refiner for Lyon's Station. The repeated refining failures were a threat to successful oil development. He interested Joseph (not John) A. Scott, a small refiner in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Scott’s fare to California was paid by Reuben Denton, a San Francisco capitalist whom McPherson had also interested in oil. Not only did Star Oil Works get a new refiner, but also a new financial backer – Denton.

First Refinery Successes

J.A. Scott started at the refinery in mid-January, 1876. He had his own special process and turned out better oil than any yet made in California. Denton Scott and John Baker were so pleased that they took an option to buy the refinery from the Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company for $1500.

However, Reuben Denton was not pleased with the way Scott and Baker were running the business and the amount of money they were borrowing from him. He was also not pleased with the revocable verbal permission to drill in Pico Canyon at Pico Springs they had from Colonel Baker. In February, 1876, Sanford Lyon (co-holder of the Pico Springs claim) drilled a 170-foot well near the Star Oil Works wells. In mid-March, to protect his investment, Denton took over the Star Oil Works for what was owed him. He quickly secured a 3-year lease to a 1000-foot square area that included Pico Springs but not Lyon’s well. He also gave John A. Scott a 1/5 interest in Star Oil Works.

California Star Oil Works Company

Using Scott and Baker’s option, Denton bought the Lyon's Station refinery on April 19, 1876. After finding more partners, Denton incorporated the Star Oil Works Company on May 3, 1876. Then on July 8, they re-incorporated as the California Star Oil Works Company (to avoid a threatened lawsuit against Denton by Nathaniel J. Clarke).

Early in June of 1876, a 20-barrel (840 gallon) still was installed at Lyon's Station. In July, Mentry started Pico #4 which was completed in September; it produced 25 barrels a day, helping to test the capacity of the larger still at the refinery. Also by July of 1876, Mentry had laid a nearly two mile long pipeline starting at the upper end of Pico Canyon near Pico #4 down the canyon. At the end of the line was a 250-barrel tank where barrels were loaded and taken by wagon nearly 7 miles to the Lyon's Station refinery. Originally, the company had planned to run the pipeline to the refinery, but it became clear that the days of the refinery were numbered. By August 1876, the Southern Pacific Railroad completed a line between Los Angeles and San Francisco next to today’s Pine Street in Railroad Canyon, about a mile west of Lyon's Station.

In September of 1876, CSOW became a target of San Francisco oil merchants Frederick B. Taylor and his junior partner Demetrius G. Scofield. Taylor bought a 30% interest in the company and both men joined the Board of Directors, becoming the main decision-makers of CSOW. Taylor became the General Manager and Scofield his advisor and field man. Taylor secured 3/7 rights to Pico Springs equaling the percentages of Baker and Beale. He also acquired hundreds of acres of undeveloped claims in Pico Canyon. In 1877, they came up with a program to increase the production of Pico Canyon by deeper drilling and construction of a larger refinery accessible to rail transportation.

Andrew's Station Refinery

At the end of April, 1877, CSOW selected a five acre site near Andrew Kraszynski's (sometimes incorrectly spelled Kazinski) stagecoach stop at the mouth of Railroad Canyon. Andrew's Station was about a mile northwest of Lyon's Station and was constructed in 1875 to take advantage of the railroad through that canyon. Not only was it next to the recently completed Southern Pacific Railroad, but there was an abundant water supply from nearby springs.

Construction began on the new refinery in May of 1877 and was supervised by Joseph A. Scott (with help from a man named Wood) of the Lyon's Station refinery. It was completed in August of 1877. Storage tanks of 20 to 100 barrel capacities were built on the hillside above the site. The crude oil would flow by gravity from the tanks to the stills below. The two Lyon's Station stills of 15 and 20 barrel capacity were moved to the site. In January of 1878 a new 100-barrel (sometimes reported as 120-barrel) cheese-box style still built in Titusville, Pennsylvania, was also installed. All three stills were mounted on a brick foundation and were directly fired using oil and the residual oil from earlier refining runs as fuel. The boiling oil produced gases in the stills which rose into iron pipes which were then redirected downward into a large wooden trough at the back of the stills. The trough was filled with cool water which caused the gases to condense into a liquid. The liquid was eventually treated with acid, agitated with air, and washed with water. The final step was Scott's secret treatment, one which he would never divulge. From the refinery, the refined products were transported to nearby storage tanks, and eventually piped to railroad tank cars.

The refinery produced small quantities of benzene and illuminating oil for use on ships, railroads, factories, and mines. Also produced was a light lubricating oil for machinery and a heavy lubricant for sawmills, and the railroad. However, the moneymakers were two grades of kerosene. The actual output at the refinery never averaged more than 750 gallons per day.

Secret or no secret, J.A. Scott still had trouble with California crude. The kerosene was of low quality. However, as long as the better eastern oils were scarce and expensive, there was a good market for it. But the kerosene was smoky, smelly, and dangerous to the consumer. It could ignite at too low a temperature. Under increasing fire about his refining abilities, Scott was let go in 1878. He was possibly replaced by James V. Morrison who is mentioned by White (1962) as a long-time refiner at Newhall by 1888. Morrison and Charles D. Kellogg are also mentioned in the Standard Oil Bulletin of September 1930 as one-time refiners at Newhall. Kellogg, who was still alive in 1930, helped with the restoration of the refinery.

The outlook for CSOW was not good. Cheaper and better eastern kerosene was beginning to flood the market causing the price to plummet. Then Beale and Baker filed a lawsuit (which centered on the question of ownership of the Pico claim) to drive CSOW from the Pico Canyon, their main source of crude. Also, the company could not obtain any new financial backing from Eastern sources.

Pacific Coast Oil Company

Pacific Coast Oil Company (PCO) was incorporated on February 19, 1879, in San Francisco by Charles N. Felton and, for some reason, re-incorporated September 10, 1879. PCO was formed for the purpose of developing Felton’s growing oil interests. Felton became the president of the new company. D. G. Scofield was the auditor. Felton, Scofield, F.B. Taylor, and others were members of the board of directors. Felton was soon joined by Lloyd Tevis, called by White (1962) "one of the greatest western capitalists of the nineteenth century." Felton had previously bought the Wiley Canyon claim and the Leaming Canyon claim and shared ownership of other claims in Pico, Rice, and Dewitt Canyons. He also had his eyes on CSOW and, by the time of the incorporation, was probably close to gaining control.

During May and June of 1879, Charles Mentry extended the Pico Canyon pipeline to the refinery at Andrew’s Station. Felton was identified as the owner of the pipe. CSOW was already under the influence of Felton. Mentry was also preparing to put up drilling rigs on Felton's Wiley claim.

In June of 1879 the controversy of the ownership of the Pico claim (from legal action started in 1878 by Beale and Baker) currently leased by Rueben Denton in 1876 finally ended. Under the terms of the agreement, CSOW was given the rights to the Pico claim and Beale and Baker received a 3/7 interest in the company and some money. At this time, Felton and Tevis were able to take over CSOW, making it a subsidiary of PCO. However, it was not actually liquidated until 1901.

Moody Gulch

Moody Gulch is located a few miles west of San Jose and 45 miles south of the Golden Gate and was owned by PCO. In October of 1879, a large amount of oil was found. This crude closely resembled the Pennsylvania crude, causing great excitement. At first the oil was shipped to the Andrew's Station refinery. In 1879, a new 150-barrel (sometimes reported as 120-barrel) cheese-box style still (also from Titusville) was added along with a second agitator. However, this was only a temporary arrangement because of the great distance between the refinery and the wells. A new refinery was needed. In early 1880, PCO selected a site on the island of Alameda immediately across the bay from San Francisco just south of Oakland. It was on a spur of the Central Pacific Railroad, accessible to ships, and had a good supply of fresh water. A large, up-to-date plant was constructed. It opened up in Mid-August of 1880 using the production from Moody Gulch and the Pico crude diverted from Andrew's Station.

Pico Effort

In 1882 PCO began a major drilling effort in Pico Canyon and 14 wells were completed by 1884. Only three were dry. Because of the new production the Alameda refinery and the older refinery at Andrew's Station had all the crude they could handle.

The End

While the Alameda plant was being expanded between 1884 and 1887, the Andrew's Station refinery was being downgraded. After April of 1885, it no longer manufactured kerosene and other refined products. Instead, it distilled the lighter products for finishing at Alameda and sold its residual oil as fuel.

In 1888, due to conditions in the north, there was a shortage of fuel oil. In April of 1888, PCO increased production at the Newhall refinery. However, in three months the conditions returned to normal and refinery only occasionally filled orders.

In October of 1888, PCO’s subsidiary CSOW bought the 12.9 acre refinery site for $750 from the Newhall Land and Farming Company, something it should have done many years earlier. Although the refinery was reaching the end of its service, the site was still useful for storage and for its railroad car loading facilities. In fact, stored oil was still shipped out of Andrew's Station and later Elayon after the name was changed (probably when the Kraszynski brothers left), right up to about 1943 (Don Ball personal communication).

In March of 1890 (White, 1962), the Andrew's Station refinery was shut down. Other publications state the date as 1888. McLaughlin (“Petroleum Industry of California”, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin No. 69, by R.P. McLaughlin, 1914) states the date as 1883, but that is probably a misprint. Another source says that Standard Oil Company records show that the refinery was shut down in 1888.

After Death

In 1900, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey puchased PCO, retaining it as a subsidiary.

In 1906, PCO and other smaller companies owned by Standard Oil of New Jersey were consolidated into a Standard Oil Company of California, a subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey.

In 1911, Standard Oil Company of California became an independent company after the U.S. Government won an anti-trust lawsuit against Standard Oil of New Jersey. Demetrius G. Scofield became the first president of the new company.

In 1918, some of the refinery equipment was cannibalized for the war (World War I) effort.

From "Los Angeles in the 1930's: The WPA Guide to the City of Angels", a book funded by the Federal Writers Project of the Works in Progress Administration first published in 1941 comes this false statement:
In 1924, the Pioneers Petroleum Society of California acquired the abandoned refinery, and some land around it, to make a memorial to California's early petroleum producers. The carefully restored stills, retorts, and vats are seen grouped together in a small canyon. The four stills, with a combined capacity of 330 barrels, rest on brick furnaces below a ridge on which the old receiving tank stands.
The Pioneers Petroleum Society was formed in 1924 "to perpetuate the memory and achievements of the men instrumental in developing the oil industry of the West." The first president, and the prime mover in starting the society, was W.W. Orcutt of the Union Oil Company. They certainly did not have the money to buy the property and do any restoration work. All the records show that the refinery was restored by Standard Oil in 1930. It was always their property until they donated it away in 1998. Why such a false statement was included in the book is a mystery to me.

In 1929, an article in the Los Angeles Times dated January 1, 1929, states that William S. Hart, the famous cowboy movie star, appeared before the County Board of Supervisors to protest against the establishment of an oil refinery near his ranch at Newhall. At the close of his speech, the board denied the request of the Newhall Refinery Company and famous inventory Milon J. Trumble (around 1911 he invented the first continuously operating still and eventually had at least 66 patents to his name) to build a refinery near the Hart mansion. It is possible that they planned to purchase the long unused old refinery site from Standard, which was near the railroad and already had storage tanks on the nearby hill. If not, the site probably was very near the old refinery, which was, and still is, very near the Hart mansion. Smoke certainly would have made living at the mansion very uncomfortable.

In 1930, shortly after the death of Standard Oil Company’s first president D. G. Scofield, the refinery was restored by Standard. Leading the effort was Standard's Pico superintendent Charles Sitzman. Also helping was Charles D. Kellogg, one of the last refiners at the Andrew's Station refinery. The refinery was dedicated in Scofield's honor and renamed the “Pioneer Oil Refinery”.

On March, 6, 1935, the Pioneer Oil Refinery became California State Historical Landmark #172. The marker is located on Lyons Avenue about 100 yards east of Interstate 5, on the right when traveling east on Lyons. It is right next to the Oak of the Golden Dream marker.

Supposidly, the refinery was again worked on in the 1950’s and also in 1976, although I have found no information on what was done. Whatever it was, it probably wasn't very substantial, maybe just some cleanup work.

An Oakland Tribune article from January 25, 1961 says:
The Standard Oil Co. will build a museum at the Richmond refinery to house relics of the company operation which range from the first derrick and early containers to modern developments. The $56,000 museum will be constructed on a site just east of the gymnasium at the Rod and Gun Club and will be of redwood, brick, stucco, and glass. The city building department is checking plans for the 5,200-square-foot, one-story building and company officials say they hope to have the museum completed by fall. The first equipment is being gathered now. In addition to the derrick which is at Pico Canyon near Los Angeles, the first still used by the company will be brought from Newhall. Some wagons used in the operation in the early 1900's and a 1902 automobile will also be included in the collection.
An article from the San Francisco Chronicle from June 13, 1961 states that on June 25th, Standard Oil would dedicate a new Historical Museum at the company's Richmond Refinery site in California. The article also states that "In front of the building are two of the largest of the exhibits. One is a restoration of the first commercial oil well in California, brought from its site in Pico Canyon, Los Angeles county. The other is the state's first oil refinery, transported from its original site near Newhall, also in Los Angeles county." The article also states that the museum cost $100,000. You can just make out the goose neck in a photo with the article (see bottom of page).

Pioneer Refinery photos starting from early 1961 show that stills #1 and #2 were removed. Since both stills were in the same base, they were probably removed at the same time. Still #1 was moved to the new museum but the fate of still #2 is not known. I have contacted Chevron and they have not been able to tell me when the museum was closed or what happened to the still. If I found where it was, I had hoped to have it returned. When the Standard Building (555 Market St.) in San Francisco was opened in 1966, it included a "World of Oil" exhibit. The still might have been moved there, but Standard doesn't know. Standard sold the building in late 1999 and moved its headquarters across the bay to San Ramon. The still's fate is unknown.

On September 27, 1975, the refinery was honored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers by being named the National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark #8 as the first successful refinery in California. See here for the dedication ceremony program (PDF - 4MB).

In 1977, Standard Oil Company of California changed their name to Chevron.

In 1998, Chevron donated the refinery site to the City of Santa Clarita.

Today, the old refinery is in a bad state at a bad location. Much of it seems ready to just collapse and some of it already has. Big rigs pass by daily on dirt roads. There is an approved plan for development all around the refinery property. The only bright spot is that the property is owned by the City of Santa Clarita, who (as of July 2011) now have approved plans for its restoration.



Vincent Gelcich

Robert S. Baker

Edward F. Beale

Andres Pico

Sanford Lyon

Charles A. Mentry

F.P.F. Temple

Charles N. Felton

Lloyd Tevis

Demetrius G. Scofield



Cover from the Standard Oil Bulletin of September, 1930, showing a padre, Pico, and a caballero. The oil is flowing like water. Of course the padres were long gone by then. Did Pico do any refining at the mission in the 1850's?

In 1968, Gerald T. White in his "Scientists in Conflict - The Beginnings of the Oil Industry in California" writes:
Long after the oil industry in California had become a reality, a few tales were told of experiments in oil refining as early as the middle 1850's by various southern Californians. The best known of these concerns Don Andres Pico, who, it is claimed [in the fourth report of 1894], tapped the oil springs of Pico Canyon in the Santa Susana Mountains as early as 1855 and "made oil for the San Fernando Mission ...in a copper still and worm." The truth is that the mission was by this time in ruins, except for a building Andres occupied. The last Franciscan padre had left the premises nearly a decade before. It is highly doubtful that such experiments actually occurred, and if any did, it was merely as a small-scale, isolated episode.
In 1984 W.H. Hutchinson in his book "California, The Golden Shore by the Sundown Sea" writes:
There is a claim that Andres Pico distilled petroleum into illuminating oil at Mission San Fernando as early as 1854-55. Extensive research into the beginnings the oil industry in California does not confirm this story, and it seems best to consign it to the realm of folklore.
However, William W. Jenkins (1835-1916) writes in the "History of the Development of Placer Mining in California" (from Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California, Volume VII, 1906, p. 71) that "in 1854 W.W. Jenkins and Sanford Lyon, at the instance of and with Francisco Lopez, visited the oil springs, from whence the Mission San Fernando took the oil in rawhide bags to the mission where it was distilled for lighting purposes." That oil springs was probably Pico Canyon. This was written over 50 years after the incident happened by a 70 year old man, but there was no reason for him to lie.

Therefore, it is likely that there was an unsuccessful attempt to distill oil at the mission at that time. If it had been successful, I'm sure that there would have been more supporting documents other then Jenkins. Also, based on the dates of the early refineries, it seems to me that a date of 1854 seems to early. 1864 would be more a reasonable date.


From the Los Angeles Herald of December 13, 1873. Information on the building of the refinery at Lyon's Station.


California's First Oil Refinery
Operated on a Commercial Scale
Erected 1876
Restored by the Standard Oil Company of California in 1930 as a Memorial to
D. G. Scofield
and his Pioneer Associates
of the California Star Oil Works Company
A Predecessor of the Standard Oil Company of California

In 1875 - 1876 Mr. Scofield and his associates obtained California's first
commercial production of crude petroleum in Pico Canyon six miles
northwest of this point and built this refinery for the
manufacture of petroleum products



From the San Francisco Chronicle of June 14, 1961, is this photo of the nearly completed Standard Oil Museum in Richmond, CA. Still # 1 was in this museum and to the left of the man walking you can see what appears to be the goose neck from the top half of the still. The "pump works" would have come from Pico Canyon.


Was the World of Oil exhibit the last resting place of still #1?


The Alameda Refinery was constructed and opened in 1880, dooming the Pioneer Refinery


The Richmond Refinery was started in 1901 and opened in 1902. It would replace the Alameda Refinery. It is still in use today. (Photo from a postcard)



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