From the Archives: Oil well in the middle of La Cienega Boulevard

From 1927 through 1945, La Cienega Boulevard had an oil well in its center divider. The slight detour became a Los Angeles icon — drawn above in a 1938 illustration by Los Angeles Times staff artist Charles H. Owens.

In the 1930s, Owens and columnist Joe Seewerker produced the Nuestro Pueblo column for The Times. For their Sep. 21, 1938, Nuestro Pueblo column, Seewerker wrote:

Many strange signs may be seen in the Hollywood region, not the least strange of which is an oil well sitting smack in the middle of a main thoroughfare.

The oil well is located on La Cienega Boulevard between Beverly Boulevard and Third street. It is said to be the only oil well in the middle of a major boulevard in the world.

Drilled in 1906, the well has been pumping steadily and faithfully ever since. The owners donated the land for La Cienega Boulevard to the city in 1927 with the provision that the well remain and the street be built around it. This was done and ever since autos have whizzed by it on either side.

Two whisky signs, one on the north and the other on the south, add to the revenue of Old Faithful. Incidentally, the well has settled down to a steady gait of eighty barrels a day. With crude oil bringing around 80 cents a barrel, that makes an income of $64 day, which is enough to keep a cafe full of monkeys in peanuts for many a moon.

Following World War II, growth spelled the end of the La Cienega Boulevard well. A story in the Nov. 14, 1945, Times announced:

One of the world’s most famous oil wells is going to go.

It’s the one that sits in the middle of La Cienega Blvd. near Beverly Blvd. Pictures and stories about it have been sent all over the globe.

Well, under a zoning agreement reached yesterday, the owners are going to remove it according to Hubert E. Smutz, city zoning administrator.

The well was drilled in 1907 – long before La Cienega Blvd. which dodges around it, was built. It is still in operation and is owned by Raymond W. Stephens. …

The well’s demise was reported in the March 8, 1946, Los Angeles Times:

They sawed a landmark through the middle and pulled it down into kindling wood yesterday in the center of La Cienega Blvd.

A world-famous oil well, it had been chugging away since 1907 – in later years with autos whizzing about it on both sides – until a zoning variance and advance of building finally stopped the 10-foot hand wheel that revolved more than 204,000,000 times.

Soon cars will be driving over the spot and newcomers will say incredulously:

“What oil well?”

Fittingly, this brief appeared on the obituary page.

See more from the Los Angeles Times archives here

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