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Manley Natland; Geologist Promoted L.A.'s Fossils

Manley Natland, the petroleum geologist whose diggings produced not only a cottage industry from the fossilized boulders unearthed when the Arco Towers were built in downtown Los Angeles but also an official rock for the city, is dead.

His wife, Dorothy, said her husband was 84 and died Sunday in Laguna Beach of the complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

Natland, whose work for oil companies took him on geologic expeditions to Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Mexico and the Rocky Mountains, found widespread notoriety for a small dig he made literally in his office’s back yard. That was in 1954, when as a Richfield geologist he was given a rock brought up during soil testing for an annex to the old Richfield Building at 6th and Flower streets.

He had it cut and polished, revealing shells, coral and snails in a marblelike material, but thought no more about it until 1969, after he had retired from Richfield, now Arco.

That year, he asked to examine the excavation site where the building and its annex were being torn down to make way for Arco Towers. What he found was an entire bed of the fossil stone he had seen years earlier.

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Natland arranged to have 500 tons of it hauled away and eventually had the 5- to 7-million-year-old rock cut and shaped into tables and statuary, some it valued at $40,000 or more.

In 1981, in connection with the city’s bicentennial, Natlandite, named for its discoverer, became an official Los Angeles symbol.

Besides his wife, the geologist is survived by three sons, four grandchildren and one great-grandson.


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