Leon Worden

City Acts to Save Newhall's 'Pioneer'

By Leon Worden

Saturday, October 2, 2004

ust ran across this ad in the Los Angeles Evening Express of March 1, 1877:
    "Why consumers should use kerosene oil manufactured by the California Star Oil Works Company: First, it is to patronize home manufacturers..."
    You know what this is? It's one of the Santa Clarita Valley's earliest "Shop Local" campaigns.
    The very first reason you should buy locally produced kerosene — instead of that imported stuff from those fancy pantses on the East Coast — is to support a local company.
    There were other reasons...
    "Second, it has no equal as an illuminating oil; third, it is entirely safe and will not explode."
    Can't you hear it? "Buy your next car at the Valencia Auto Mall — because it will not explode!"
    And for gosh sakes, don't drive your new, nonexploding car to Wal-Mart. Gotta keep those sales tax dollars between the 5 and 14.
    Apparently the 19th-century kerosene makers solved whatever shipping problems they'd had.
    "Hereafter, there will be no delay in filling orders promptly. All orders should be addressed, 'California Star Oil Works Co., Andrew's Station, Los Angeles County,' and will receive prompt attention."
    Andrew was Andrew Kraszynski [cq], and Andrew's Station was a whistle stop near today's Pine Street, complete with its own postmark. The area wasn't yet Newhall.
    Kraszynski, a Polish Jew, built his station in 1876 after getting into a spat with his former employer, Sanford Lyon, a Protestant from New England who owned the stagecoach stop near today's Eternal Valley Cemetery.
    Kraszynskimust have played his faro cards close to his vest because he outmaneuvered Lyon in grand style.
    Kraszynskiheard the hammer and clank of the Chinese track layers who were pushing up the Newhall Pass for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Why Lyon was asleep at the wheel is history's mystery, but Kraszynski, realizing the trains would roar through Railroad Canyon, stood ready. A month before Los Angeles and San Francisco were united for the first time by rail, Kraszynski's train station was up and running, prepared to ship and receive goods and supplies.
    Literally bypassed, Lyon's Station died.
    What's this got to do with California Star Oil Co.?
    The kerosene makers needed to be close to the local shipping hub. Their predecessors — including Sanford Lyon himself — had set up a small refinery in 1874 near Lyon's Station but never quite got the operation to click. They went bust within a year.
    California Star took over, moved the former operator's cooker from Lyon's Station to Andrew's Station in August 1876 and ultimately added three more stills.
    Their timing was propitious. The following month in Pico Canyon six miles to the west, oil driller Alex Mentry hit a gusher — giving birth to California's oil industry.
    Almost overnight, California Star's operation behind Andrew's Station became the first productive oil refinery in the American West.
    Its 12-year run ended in 1888 when the industry moved north and a huge refinery opened at Alameda.
    By luck more than by design, our Pioneer Oil Refinery has survived the ages, more or less. The two larger boilers still sit on their brick foundations, as does the contraption that was used to treat the petroleum to improve its burning quality.
    The smaller stills were trucked away to a mid-state oil museum — but what remains along Pine Street is nothing short of the oldest existing oil refinery in the world.
    Right here in downtown Newhall.
    The past decade has been the roughest for the Pioneer. The 1994 earthquake shivered its timbers and toppled a smokestack, and today it's at risk of disintegrating.
    The city of Santa Clarita owns the refinery now, receiving it as a gift in 1997 from California Star's ultimate successor, Chevron USA. The city has wanted to protect it and turn it into a park with interpretive tours for school kids, but the city hasn't been able to do everything it wanted to do, as fast as it might like, during the recent state budget crisis.
    Thanks to the tenacity of historically minded City Parks Director Rick Gould, salvation for the refinery could be near. On Tuesday the City Council voted to go after a $500,000 grant from a voter-approved state park bond. If it comes through, the city would kick in another $500,000, probably out of the $2.4 million the city will get from the Gate-King (Needham Ranch) industrial park.
    It would be an appropriate use of the developer fees. The business park surrounds the refinery on at least three sides, posing a further threat if nothing is done to protect it — and that's a worry to developer Mark Gates, whose initial offer to the city included $500,000 to save the refinery.
    The only alternative is to apply $500,000 in sales taxes collected from those nonexploding cars in the Auto Mall...

    Leon Worden is the Signal's opinion and multimedia editor.

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