This advertisement appeared in the May 1935 edition of Engineering and Mining Journal just as Halafax (named for its financier, Erle P. Halliburton) was opening its explosives manufacturing
plant in Saugus. At the time, the mining industry was a primary consumer of blasting powders. Competition was fierce among manufacturers who tried to produce a stable and effective product:
one that performed consistently
and which exploded when it was supposed to — and not when it wasn't supposed to.
Halafax went bankrupt and was acquired in 1942 by Bermite Powder Co., which was already manfacturing fireworks
on adjacent property. Bermite continued to make fireworks and munitions on
on its 996-acre property until 1987 when it was forced to shut down (then as a division of Whittaker Corp.), leaving behind dozens of toxic and hazardous materials.
THE CARDS ARE ON THE TABLE...
Ours is an era of change. Forward thinking is reflected in political, economic and industrial phases of the nation.
In 1930 a new idea in blasing powders was conceived. Today the organization responsible for its development offers this powder for sale under the trade name "Halafax."
During the past five years ton after ton of Halafax Explosives has been produced but never sold. Mines, quarries, construction projects have tested this powder with exhaustive
and rigid tests. It has been viewed with the supercritical, sceptical [sic] eyes of the product's severest critic — the user. One by one, miners, contractors, explosive engineers
have proven for themselves the revolutionary explosive advantages exlusive with Halafax. Critics have become disciples.
The Halafax Explosives Co. is concentrating on the manufacture and sale of one thing. To that end every energy, every effort of their entire personnel will be devoted.
Halafax Products will be offered for sale not as "cheaper" powders, — not as "better" powders, — but as the most economical disruptive forces
of commercial practicability that may be purchased by the pound.
FEATURES OF HALAFAX EXPLOSIVES:
Chemical Stability: No leaking fluids, no bleeding, creeping or separation of ingredients in storage.
Physical Stability: No change of consistency or efficiency due to temperature variations. Uniform combustion in every cartridge.
HALAFAX EXPLOSIVES CO.
Executive Offices: Los Angeles, Calif.
Plant and Magazines: Saugus, Calif.
The Bermite Powder Co., and Halafax Explosives Co. before it, manufactured explosives, flares and small munitions in Saugus, on a roughly 1,000-acre parcel just southeast of Bouquet Junction, from
1935 to 1987.
Apparently the first on the scene was Jim "The Boilermaker" Jeffries, undefeated heavyweight champion of the world from 1899-1905. Jeffries took the helm of the L.A. Powder Co.,
which incorporated in 1915, and in 1917 set up a Saugus plant on the future Bermite property to manfacture gunpowder, in hopes of supplying the allied forces in World War I.
By 1920 Jeffries was also drilling oil wells on the property; the success of either venture is unclear.
The week of April 22, 1935, Halafax opened a $250,000 plant financed by E.P. Halliburton, an Oklahoma oil tycoon whose eponymous company would grow into one of the biggest multinational
oilfield service providers.
According to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (2004), in 1939,
Patrick Lizza established Golden State Fireworks on adjacent property, while Halafax manufactured
fireworks at its site from 1936 to
Halafax eventually defaulted on its property taxes, and Lizza's company, as Bermite Powder, acquired the ex-Halafax land from the county, apparently for the price of the unpaid taxes.
Per DTSC, "The Bermite Powder Company
produced detonators, fuzes, boosters,
coated magnesium, and stabilized red
phosphorus from 1942 to 1967. In
addition, between 1942 and 1953 they
produced flares, photoflash bombs for
battlefield illumination, and other
Bermite and the Saugus property played an important role in the needs of the U.S. military during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam conflict.
For example, the most widely used air-to-air missile in the West, Raytheon's AIM-9 Sidewinder, started production in 1953 at China Lake and used a Hercules/Bermite MK-36 solid-fuel rocket engine
that would have been tested and manufactured at the Saugus plant.
Bermite was a major employer and contributed to the development of Newhall in 1939 with a row of 50 2-bedroom bungalows along Walnut Street for factory workers.
During and after World War II it was also a major employer of women.
In the postwar period, Bermite's subsidiary, Golden State Fireworks, was manufacturing fireworks on the property.
Whittaker Corp. purchased Bermite Powder Co. and took over the property in
1967, operating it through 1987 as a munitions
manufacturing, testing and storage
facility. Among Whittaker-Bermite's products were
ammunition rounds; detonators, fuzes and boosters;
flares and signal cartridges; glow plugs, tracers and pyrophoric
igniters, ignition compositions and
rocket motors and gas generators; and
missile main charges.
The munitions and fireworks operations left more than 275 known contaminants behind, some of which percolated into the groundwater below the property.
Starting in about 1986, the operations would be exposed to steadly harsher environmental scrutiny over the next several years.
"In 1987, the facility ceased all of its
manufacturing, testing and storage of
ordnance and explosive items," according to DTSC.
Within another two years, plans were made for the area to be developed into a 2,911-unit residential community to be called Porta Bella, which was approved by the City Council but didn't
come to fruition.
Whittaker sold the Saugus property to an Arizona investor group in 1999, just before Whittaker was acquired in a hostile takeover. The property spent the first decade
of the 21st Century tied up in litigation, one result of which is a long-term toxic chemical cleanup project managed by the Castaic Lake Water Agency.