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Hollywood Oil Photographs - Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection


Early Oil Exploration

Shortly before the turn of the century, oil in Hollywood was on the increase in Los Angeles. Ida Hancock, the wife of Henry Hancock, had been approached with numerous offers to lease large portions of her holdings, but declined because of the unwillingness of the petitioners to agree to her terms, observing that unless these were exceeded to, she would wait until such time when she could develop the oil herself.

Finally, in October 1885, Mrs. Hancock entered into her first agreement for oil, with Messrs. Lyman Stewart, Dan McFarland and Wallace Hardison. She stipulated 1/8 royalty, reserved agricultural rights and the privilege of continuing to mine the La Brea tar pits, which was still her chief source of income. The first well was drilled to a depth of 1780 feet, and proved to be a dry well. Three other holes were drilled, only one of which produced oil in a moderate flow. These operations, however, marked the beginning of the present Union oil Company of California. Mrs. Hancock signed a second lease with the Salt Lake Company 15 years later, and by 1910, nearly 250 wells were producing over 3,800,000 barrels a year.


Gilmore Oil Company

Meanwhile, a man named Arthur Gilmore had purchased a relatively small plot of land within the Rancho La Brea and had established a dairy farm on it. In 1903, while drilling for water, Gilmore struck oil. One rich well after another was brought in on his old farm, changing it into an oil field started with derricks and processing plants and a shack town to supply workers needs. Gilmore sold his dairy and established the  Gilmore Oil Company, which his son, Earl, developed into the largest independent oil business on the West Coast. This property today is the site of the Farmers Market and CBS Television City. Gilmore Field and Gilmore Stadium, built in the 1930s, have gone the way of the oil fields.


Watching the increased oil development on the Rancho, Mrs. Hancock's son, G Allen Hancock, became interested in learning about this fascinating new business. By 1900, at the age of 25, he had taken a job with the Salt Lake Company. Thus, began his three-year study of every phase of the industry, from running gas engines for pumps and handling the oil for delivery, to watching the drilling shafts and increasing his knowledge of geology.

La Brea Oil Company

After his employment with the salt lake company, Alan went to his mother to unfold his plans for oil exploration. After carefully consideration, she agreed to finance him up to $10,000. He started drilling and by February 1907 he had a producing well yielding an average of 200 to 300 barrels a day. This was the beginning of Allen's La Brea oil company, which during its operation, drilled a total of 71 Wells.


By the early 1920s, Los Angeles and Hollywood began to expand their boundaries. It wasn't long before this expansion had encroached into the oil fields just south of Hollywood. By 1925 all of the oil wells were gone.

The largest collection of photos of oil wells in Hollywood is on the website. In addition there are many photographs of the Farmers Market, Gilmore Field, and Gilmore Stadium.

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