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Chavez Ravine

Los Angeles City Oil Field was first discovered in 1890, essentially by digging little more than a deep post hole near an oil seep.

In 1892 our dear old friend of great Mexican oil history fame, Edward Doheny. drilled what would become known as the discovery well in the City field near Colton Street.

The well was TD'd at 155 feet and made 7 BOPD of 14 gravity oil that was lifted to the surface in buckets by a tireless horse and block and tackle. By 19o5 there were 200 wells in the field making something like 2000 BOPD. The field was found to be a west to east, narrow, elongated anticline; the better pay sands were all Miocene aged Puente sands from 150 feet to 1100 feet deep. Some oil was 20 gravity but for the most part it was less than 16 gravity, viscous tar that made good kerosene. It was also very high in H2S and created a horrible, foul odor over most of the urban neighborhoods north of downtown.

The entire field, eventually consisting of over 1000 wells, was drilled in empty lots and in people's back and front yards. Doheny was the biggest producer in the field by 1902 when it make 1.5 MM BO. City Field brought Doheny great wealth and marked the start of his vast oil, refining and marketing empire.

On the right is a Doheny well in City Field in 1903 with him in attendance, as usual, second from the right with a cane. Years before Doheny had been mining for ore in New Mexico where he was mauled by a mountain lion, his leg never quite the same and a deep scar down his face. We walked with a cane the rest of his life

As the field was developed east, along the anticline axis, the surface terrain became more dramatic and wells were drilled down in creek beds and up on hills; the highest ground elevation point in the field, and the highest structural position along the anticline was above Chavez Ravine, and south of what would later become the Pasadena Freeway.

Chavez Ravine, actually a deep, semi circular canyon of almost 700 acres, was named after Julio Chavez, from New Mexico, who moved to Los Angeles in 1830 and bought nearly 100 acres in the canyon and floodplain to the north. Over the years the area became predominantly a Mexican American neighborhood of low income and poor housing, but proud and embedded with deep Mexican cultures. It benefited little from the development of Los Angeles City Field because most, but not all, of its wells were above the Chavez canyon itself and out of barrio areas.

LA City Field wells in the La Loma Barrio, Chavez District; 1922.

LA City Field Along Chavez Ravine Road, 1931

In the early 1950's the Los Angeles City council, using funds from the Federal Housing Act of 1949 condemned much of the barrio communities in Chavez Ravine District and under eminent domain began buying homes and land for a housing project near Elysian Park. Mexican Americans were displaced from their homes for little or no money. Some refused to leave completely and the Battle of Chavez Ravine, a ten year legal battle that often led to direct conflicts in the street between home homeowners and the police, began. The battle was lost, of course and Mexican Americans were forced out of the area completely, left with nothing. The photo below is of a Chavez Ravine "eviction" underway in 1957.

In 1958 the City sold 358 acres of Chavez Ravine to Walter O'Malley and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Dodger Stadium was built and opened in 1962. Several of the last remaining homes in the proposed sight of the baseball stadium were moved to Universal studios and used in the making of the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Dodger Stadium was built on the northeast flank of the Los Angeles City Oil Field, off the crest, and what few wells were drilled in the early 1900's in the area of the proposed stadium were unsuccessful and plugged, probably with little more than cedar fence posts and dirt.

But there are little secrets under Dodger Stadium few know about.

Mexican culture often requires that a newborn baby's umbilical cord be buried near the home in which he or she was born. I learned this long ago in a visit to Oaxaca, in southern Mexico; I know the custom is still practiced by midwives in poor areas of Mexico. All through the early 1900's thousands of Mexican American babies were born in the barrios of Chavez Ravine. When those families lost their homes what was buried underground stayed.

Indeed a famous Mexican American artist uprooted from his home in the Chavez Ravine District of Los Angeles once said in 1973...

There's an old Mexican custom that where you're born, the umbilical cord is buried. Mine's buried under third base....And I hate home runs, 'cause every time they step on third base, my stomach hurts."

Los Angeles City Oil Field, Glendale Blvd. and 1st Street; 1904

LA City Field was abandoned by 1964 with over 1.4MM BO of cumulative production. There are no active wells currently in the Field in 2023, the last one plugged in 2014.

There is believed to be over 3.5 billion barrels of recoverable oil left in the Los Angeles Basin in shallow Miocene sands. That oil will never be produced because of urban sprawl and recent California legislation mandating no new oil wells can be drilled within 3,200 feet of any building or structure and that all oil wells in the entire State ultimately be permanently plugged by 2045.



[1]Los Angeles City Library Digital Archives

]2]The Los Angeles Times


[4]Getty Education Center

[5]Calisphere, The University of Southern California

[6] Huntington Beach Public Library

[7] Spudding In, Recollections of Pioneer Days of California Oil Fields, William Rintoul; California Historical Society, 1976


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