Southern California's First Explosives Manufacturing Plant
In 1930 an idea was born to an engineer experienced in the construction and explosives fields. The idea involved a new and revolutionary development in the science of blasting powder manufacture.
If this man's idea could be proven — if his plan for improved processes could be carried out, industries of the West would save thousands of dollars each day on explosives needed for mining, construction and building of highways.
For two years Mexico's mines and mountain fastnesses re-echoed to the rumbling roar of experimental blasts. Thousands of tests were made under favorable and under adverse conditions — in uniform and in varied earth formations. They all proved one thing — that this man's idea was sound — that it was practical — that it offered the explosives industry its first real progressive development since Nobel stabilized the manufacture and use of nitroglycerin.
An outgrowth of this idea, of the faith and perseverance of Western engineers, is the Halafax Explosives Co., which today, at Saugus, opens as Southern California's first explosives manufacturing plant.
In this new quarter-million-dollar factory blasting powders of all standard grades will be manufactured. Its new and modern machinery represents the best produced by western manufacture. In the fabrication of its buildings, the contractors of Los Angeles have contributed supervision, materials and man-power.
Born of a Westerner's idea, built by Western engineers, and backed by Western capital, the Halafax Explosives Co. is ready to manufacture and sell “disruptive force by the pound” to meet the rigid standards of Western explosives engineers.
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Halafax Explosives Company
Los Angeles, California
Executive Offices: 810 South Spring St.
Manufacturing Plant: Saugus, Calif.
Above is depicted the site of the Halafax Explosives Co. near Saugus, California. Several of the individual buildings are completely hidden from each other by large barricades as well as by natural hills and ridges.
Below the photograph is shown a detail map of how the plant of the Halafax Explosives co. may be reached by those who are interested in visiting this newest of Southern California's industries.
These local companies and contractors have contributed materials and labor used in the erection of the new Halafax Plant.
A. & S. Paint Company
J.H. Baxter Company
Bevis Machinery Company
Blake, Moffitt & Towne
Blue Diamond Corporation
Emil Brown & Co.
L.H. Butcher Company
California Corrugated Culvert Company
Certainteed Paint Company
Cleveland Wrecking Company
Colson Equipment & Supply Co.
Consolidated Rock Products Co.
Crown Willamette Paper Co.
Detroit Hoist & Machinery co.
General Electric Supply Co.
Chas. B. Hadley & Co.
Ben B. Hood
J.F. Holbrook Company
Johnston Pump Company
Kelly Pipe Company
Kimball Elevator Company
Irving S. King Company
Morris P. Kirk Company
L.A. Rubber & Asbestos Works
I.A. Rubber Stamp Co.
Monolith Cement Company
Mefford Chemical Company
H.E. McCowan Co.
Oil Well Supply Company
Pacific Coast Wire & Iron Works
Pacific Metals Company
Ira G. Perrin (Representing Elwell-Parker Co.)
Plant Rubber & Asbestos Works
Republic Supply Company
E.J. Stanton & Sons Lumber Co.
Soule Steel Company
Southwestern Portland Cement Co.
Taylor Instrument Company
Toledo Scale Company
U.S. Electrical Manufacturing Co.
Union Hardware Company
Westco Pump Company
Western Industrial Engineering Co.
Westinghouse Supply Company
Woodenware Specialty Company
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.