Driving around Southern California, you never know where you’ll find oil.
Drilling platforms, for example, can be seen on the Coyote Hills golf course in Fullerton, in the parking lot of Huntington Beach’s City Hall and outside Curley’s Cafe in Signal Hill.
There’s even a derrick tucked inside the Beverly Center, near the parking area for Bloomingdale’s.
But one of the area’s most unusual drilling sites is just a memory now. It was a well that stood in the middle of La Cienega Boulevard from 1930 to 1946, forcing drivers to zigzag around it.
“Pictures and stories about it have been sent all over the globe,” The Times noted in 1945.
The oil island, between Beverly Boulevard and 3rd Street, became a running gag.
Times columnist Fred Beck quipped in 1944 that it was “squeaking badly and needs oil.”
Originally part of the Rancho La Brea land grant, the well helped “give Los Angeles a reputation for eccentricity,” The Times noted.
Of course, when the wooden derrick was constructed in 1907, it wasn’t in the middle of La Cienega Boulevard. It was in the middle of a bean field. La Cienega didn’t run that far north.
Then, in 1930, the city extended the roadway from Santa Monica Boulevard to Sunset Boulevard. Who knew? There was always a chance that it might be needed if traffic on the Westside ever increased.
But “there was much discussion and controversy over the fate of the well,” The Times said. “The city refused to pay what the owners believed the well to be worth. The owners refused to accept less.”
So the well stayed.
In later years it was given a bit of ornamentation: whiskey billboards on the north and south sides.
“The well is fenced and parked as if it were an ornamental fountain or statue,” The Times wrote in 1938.
Eventually the owners decided it would be more profitable to operate a drugstore in the area, so the land was rezoned and the oil well dismantled.
Of course, the well wasn’t the only petroleum-producing road obstacle in the nation.
Barnsdall, Okla. (population: 1,325) put up a derrick in the middle of Main Street in 1914.
It’s still there as a landmark, but it no longer pumps oil. No one can remember it ever causing an accident — that’s how light traffic is on Main Street.
“We don’t have any stoplights in town,” said Joe Williams, president of the local Bigheart Historical Society.
On La Cienega Boulevard, of course, there are plenty of stoplights and no traces of the old bean fields (unless you count the nearby Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf outlet).
The Beverly Center stands a few feet from the old well site.
The old derrick’s removal, however, has not rid the area of roadside distractions.
On Thursday, drivers trying to enter the Beverly Center’s garage were jamming traffic in both directions.
Meanwhile, motorists attempting to pull into a hopelessly crowded mini-mall across the street from the Beverly Center occasionally found themselves stranded in the street, blocking northbound traffic and prompting horn-honking.
Three panhandlers added to the circus by walking into traffic to make their appeals.
One of the supplicants, who identified herself as Kimberly, lamented that in the 90-degree weather, “drivers don’t want to roll down their windows.”
Meanwhile, half a block north, motorists were slaloming around three dozen orange cones in the intersection of La Cienega and Beverly, where lanes were being re-striped.
One corner of the intersection was dug up for electrical work.
In fact, conditions were so chaotic it’s possible that if an oil well were still in the middle of the street, some drivers might not have noticed it.
From our mailbox:
Regarding a “Then and Now” column about Venice’s short-lived nude beach of 1974, lifeguard Jeff McConnel told the “County Recurrent” website that he was interviewed by a Midwest radio reporter that year:
“I … was asked how I felt about all the nude sunbathing…I stated I didn’t believe in it. I said, ‘If God wanted us to go nude, we would have been born that way,’ with a very straight face. He thanked me and was shaking his head as he walked away.”