Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

City Seeks Grant to Rejuvenate Pioneer Oil Refinery

By Judy O'Rourke
Signal Staff Writer

Saturday, October 2, 2004

erosene will never again course through the pipes of the world's oldest existing refinery, but a $500,000 grant sought this week could revive the Newhall landmark as a historic site.
    The grant would be matched with $500,000 from developer or general fund fees and should substantially restore the crumbling 125-year-old Pioneer Oil Refinery site and pay for interpretive displays.
    "We don't have to restore it so it works," said Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Laurene Weste. "We'll show how it would work."
    The state should decide by March whether the "threatened" site qualifies as grant-worthy, but Proposition 40 money targeted for historical resources and preservation seems a perfect fit, said Rick Gould, director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services for the city of Santa Clarita.
    Located in Newhall, the structure was added to the state's list of historical sites in 1935. Pioneer was the first successful oil refinery in California, churning out illuminating oil used in ships, railroads, factories and mines.
    Chevron gave the 4 1/2-acre refinery parcel to the city in 1998. The property was restored in 1930 and 1976, but it suffered severe damage from the Jan. 17, 1994, Northridge earthquake.
    Runoff has buried some of the outlying buildings around the refinery. Two of the four stills that distilled oil remain on the property. Restoring the site could involve carting home the two wayward stills parked on Chevron property in Northern California, restoring the tool shed and creating displays that depict how the oil was removed from the hills.
    In its first decade, Pioneer refined oil extracted from neighboring Mentryville, the site of the first commercially productive oil well in the western United States.
    Remains of the refinery sit within the proposed 584-acre Needham Ranch industrial park — from which the city has earmarked $500,000 in fees to fix up the historic property. However, restoration would not be contingent on receiving the funds from Needham.
    Developer fees are used by the city to help fund parks and community projects.
    The oil refinery had been used as a real-life teaching resource for school children until it was severely damaged by the earthquake. The goal of the city and the Santa Clarita Historical Society is to restore the property's physical and educational integrity.

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