Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
Newsreel (Film): Newhall Refinery Fire
Newhall, California

August 12, 1944 — Newhall Refinery on fire. Excerpt from the 2-minute Paramount newsreel, "Fires Sweep Nation!" calling attention to the cost of various enormous fires around the country during wartime. Voiced by Bob Harris.

The Newhall Refinery was located on the east side of Sierra Highway, immediately north of Beale's Cut. (At the time, and now in 2014, Beale's Cut and the old refinery are part of the same property.)

This is one of 85,000 films released by British Pathé in April 2014. Pathé's description of the "Near Newhall" portion of the newsreel reads:

"Various shots of the fire raging near Newhall, California — large oil refinery in fire. Fire fighters at work, night shots. Huge fire, thick black smoke, burned buildings, etc."

British Pathé releases 85,000 films on YouTube

British Pathé Archive, April 17, 2014 — Newsreel archive British Pathé has uploaded its entire collection of 85,000 historic films, in high resolution, to its YouTube channel. This unprecedented release of vintage news reports and cinemagazines is part of a drive to make the archive more accessible to viewers all over the world.

"Our hope is that everyone, everywhere who has a computer will see these films and enjoy them," says Alastair White, General Manager of British Pathé. "This archive is a treasure trove unrivalled in historical and cultural significance that should never be forgotten. Uploading the films to YouTube seemed like the best way to make sure of that."

British Pathé was once a dominant feature of the British cinema experience, renowned for first-class reporting and an informative yet uniquely entertaining style. It is now considered to be the finest newsreel archive in existence. Spanning the years from 1896 to 1976, the collection includes footage — not only from Britain, but from around the globe — of major events, famous faces, fashion trends, travel, sport and culture. The archive is particularly strong in its coverage of the First and Second World Wars.

Alastair White continues: "Whether you're looking for coverage of the Royal Family, the Titanic, the destruction of the Hindenburg, or quirky stories about British pastimes, it'll be there on our channel. You can lose yourself for hours."

This project is being managed by German company Mediakraft, which has been responsible for numerous past YouTube successes. The company will be creating new content using British Pathé material, in English and in foreign languages.

About the Newhall Refinery

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 built in 1930 by the William P. Andrews Oil Company. Construction started in April 1930, and it began operations in July. To run the refinery, company president William P. Andrews started the Andrews Refining Company. The refinery had a full capacity of 2,000 barrels of oil per day. In 1933, Joseph Otto Moffett (1890-1964), an officer of the William P. Andrews Oil Company and future mayor of San Fernando, bought the refinery and changed the refining company name to the San Fernando Refining Company. 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.[1]

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."[2]

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.[3], 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 out. 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.

Video courtesy of Stan Walker.



FILM: Fire 1944


Explosion ~1944


Spruce Street Office 1949


1951 Wall Calendar



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