Newhall Refinery, probably 1944. The men in the middle of the image are looking at something that has exploded (which was not terribly uncommon), and the white tank has fallen over.
Two side-by-side prints from the same vantage point to create a panorama. Not two halves of the same image because the position of the men is slightly different. Photographs donated to SCV Historical Society in March 2003 by Rita Rippe.
Not to be confused with the much earlier Pioneer Oil Refinery at a different location in Newhall, the Newhall Refinery started in 1930, according to A.B. Perkins, and sat just west of Sierra Highway at what is now 22674 N. Clampitt Road, immediately north of Beale's Cut, which is actually under the same ownership as the refinery property.
According to SCV oil historian Stan Walker, the Newhall Refinery was initially owned and operated by the San Fernando Refining Co., which was headquartered in San Fernando and by Joseph Otto Moffett (1890-1964), a one-time mayor of San Fernando. According to Walker (as is much of the following information), William D. Parks was the general superintendent of the refinery and Ed Ericson was its purchasing agent.
In 1933 the refinery distributed distributed 756,801.9 gallons of oil (21,640 barrels); by 1938 its annual output was 3,500,000 gallons (~100,000 bbl); and in 1939 it served 69 service stations in California only and owned five trucks and leased eight more.
In 1942 the refinery was purchased by its employees, Parks and Ericson, who organized the Newhall Refining Co. with a business office on Spruce Street, phone number 355. Today the address is of the same building is 24331 Main Street.
Walker writes that the new company "became an important local employer. Ownership records state that the owners were William Delaney Parks (1903-1963), Ivalee Parks (his wife, 1901-1991), Edward Arthur Ericson (1895-1979), and Vena Ericson (his wife, 1896-1988). According to a Daily News article of Aug. 29, 1989, Parks used his own and his wife's life savings. The refinery could process 3,500 barrels per day at full capacity. Twenty men worked there." One of them was Donald A. Shaffer (1906-1990), who was hired as a truck driver just prior to World War II and returned to work after the war under new owners.
The operations were not without their accidents. Walker writes: "On August 12, 1944, fire demolished the Newhall Refinery. A laboratory flame ignited fumes from a burst naphtha line and in seconds, a 10,000-gallon tank of naphtha blew up. Flames shot nearly 2,000 feet into the sky and storage tanks exploded. James Breckenridge died in the hospital from burns suffered in the first explosion, and William Taylor was seriously burned while dragging Breckenridge from the flames. Flames and heat from the burning tank ignited others, and one by one, tanks began blowing up. At one time, 18 of the 25 tanks were burning."
The refinery was rebuilt; lesser fires and accidents befell the refinery over the next three decades resulting in at least one additional death. In 1975 State Farm Insurance was awarded $1.7 million when it proved negligence in fire-related mishaps.
By that time the refinery was under different ownership. Pauley Petroleum Co., founded in 1958 by Edwin W. Pauley, bought Newhall Refining Co. in 1959, when it had a daily capacity of 4,000 bbl. By the time the Sylmar Earthquake struck on Feb. 9, 1971 — temporarily shutting the plant but doing little serious damage — it was producing 5,500 bbl. of asphalt, road oils and jet fuels daily.
Locals fought the refinery's expansion plans in the 1970s; late in the decade it installed pollution control devices to comply with tightening environmental regulations — although it continued to exceed standards for sulphur dioxide emissions in the mid-1980s. By that time it had 100 employees and a daily capacity of ~23,000 bbl.
Walker quotes a description of the operations from Moody's Industrial Manual, Vol. 2, 1989: "The Newhall Refinery is a modern oil refinery in Newhall, California with a capacity of 20,100 barrels per stream day. It is a hydroskimming operation with the ability to produce diesel and light oils, asphalt, jet fuels, gasoline, fuel oil and certain other products. In addition, it has a medium pressure bydrotreater which provides the ability to remove sulfur from diesel fuel and gas oil."
But the operation was bleeding money and faced additional costs to comply with ever-stricter environmental laws. On Dec. 15, 1989, a subsidiary of The Hondo Co., which acquired a controlling interest in Pauley the year prior, shut down the refinery.
Pauley merged with Hondo in 1990 and changed its name to Hondo Oil & Gas Co., which in 1991 pursued the redevelopment of the 117-acre property as a business park with roughly 1 million square feet of commercial space.
The property lay just outside the city of Santa Clarita's original 1987 boundaries, but Hondo went through the city's planning department with the intent of annexing it into the city (a common practice among developers with borderline properties.) The Santa Clarita City Council approved the pre-zoning of Hondo's Valley Gateway project Sept. 14, 1993.
But the remediation costs were prohibitive and Hondo couldn't make the project pencil. Nonetheless, one thing did come out of the process: The property, including Beale's Cut, was annexed into the city.
Today the refinery's remaining structures are a weird, graffiti-covered eyesore to passing motorists on the 14 Freeway, sitting derelict as they await an uncertain future under ever-changing ownership.
1. Walker cites the "Report of the California State Board of Equalization for 1933-1934" for the 1933 output; "California Oil World Directory" for 1938; and the "International Pertroleum Register of 1939" for the 1939 statistics.
2. Walker cites the Los Angeles Times of Aug. 13, 1944
3. Hondo Oil Co. was founced in 1957 by Robert O. Anderson (1917-2007), who discovered the Empire-Abo oil field in southeastern New Mexico.
HS9021: 19200 dpi jpeg from 2 combined 2½x4-inch glossy prints.