Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

What If They'd Never
Discovered Oil in Pico?

Published in The Signal, 2-27-2005.

Darryl Manzer, 2004     What if there had never been a Mentryville and the oil discovery in Pico Canyon? What would our Santa Clarita Valley be today if there hadn't been the oil field that spawned all other oil drilling in the SCV? I know my life would have been very different. My father may have remained a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff. We might still be in Castaic. What if?
    I've often wondered just how the SCV, and indeed the world, would have changed without certain events happening in history. Many historians have postulated what might have happened had Presidents Lincoln or Kennedy not been assassinated. A recent book's plot is about what would have occurred had Charles Lindbergh been elected when he ran against FDR in 1940.
    On Monday, Feb. 21, I watched as a mudslide threatened the Big House in Mentryville and Pico Creek undermined the barn. Two very important pieces of our valley's history could have been lost forever. They are still threatened today from the unceasing rains of the past week. What if?
    Starting with the big picture, had there been no oil discovery in Pico Canyon, there would be no Chevron Oil Co. Chevron started in Pico Canyon as Pacific Coast Oil and California Star Oil. Those two small companies were bought and became the core of Standard Oil of California. Standard Oil became Chevron.
    Without those companies, California would be a far different place. While the discovery of gold in Placerita Canyon and later, up north near Sacramento, was an economic boom for the state, it was the discovery of "black gold" that brought long-term economic viability here to the SCV and indeed the whole state.
    Newhall, Saugus and the SCV was a farming and ranching community. There wasn't much else around. The railroad came through for a number of reasons best route to Los Angeles; cattle and farm product shipping. One of the biggest reasons was to ship oil out of the SCV. Again, no Pico Canyon oil, and the SCV may have remained a "whistle stop" on the way to Los Angeles.
    The Southern Pacific Railroad wasn't dumb. They put rail lines where they were needed. They were needed here in the SCV to ship oil. If fact, it was an oil shipping price war between the SP and Standard Oil that caused the first long oil pipeline to be laid all the way from Newhall to Ventura. The first pier at Ventura was built as an oil shipping terminal for some of the first oil tankers on the West Coast. Again, no Pico oil, no ships, no piers, no pipeline, and no railroad between the SCV and Ventura.
    The oil found in Pico Canyon brought in other companies and drillers who looked for oil all over the SCV. They found it in Placerita Canyon, near Val Verde and Castaic, around Santa Paula and Fillmore, and just about any place they punched down a well. Those drillers and companies brought with them families, and built homes and other businesses, and the local economy grew.
    Oil profits far outpaced those of farming and ranching. Without the oil, the SCV would have remained a community of somewhat poor farmers and merchants.
    We can't forget that oil from wells replaced whale oil. Dare I say, petroleum (oil) saved the whales?
    Oil has paid for schools, homes, roads, and helped bring water to the SCV. What would it be like without everything oil has brought? What if?
    Now, the birthplace of the SCV's economy and growth is threatened. Does anybody care? Do we let it be covered by mud and washed away in the raging deluge of Pico Creek? Do we forget our past that we owe so much? My life would be very different without the oil from Pico Canyon, and I think the lives of all in the SCV (and the entire state) would be different, too.
    Mentryville needs help. I've never known the folks of the SCV not to help when help was needed. If you could ask yourself what you could do, you might be consider this: Volunteer time to help clear mud and debris, paint the buildings, or build some trails. Maybe you own a heavy equipment company and are willing to donate the use of your equipment and operators for a day or two or longer. Money is always helpful, too. Giving of your time, talent and a small measure of treasure would be how to help today.
    Contact the Friends of Mentryville ( or the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy at (310) 589-3200 to help. Mentryville has given so much to us and our valley. It is time to give a little back.

    Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.

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