Friday, November 20, 2015

Bean Fields! Vintage Photo Friday

Photo by Ansel Adams, 1939. La Cienega near Beverly Blvd., Oil well Island in the center of the street. LAPL Photo Archives

Whenever my Dad would drive us around town, he'd point out different buildings that he thought were interesting. We would sometimes ask, "what was there BEFORE that building was built, Dad?" He'd always yell out, "BEAN FIELDS!" It seems that our end of Los Angeles was filled with bean fields. Really? Green beans? Soy beans? What kind of beans? Do we really eat that many beans? Beans are not glamorous. ORANGES are glamorous and give us an uplifting and sunshine-y view of Los Angeles. We never drove around and heard that different areas around town were orange groves. The oranges were out in the Valley. On the west side, we got beans.
I came across two photos by Ansel Adams on the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection of former bean fields, turned into oil fields. It seems that the very busy street of La Cienega Boulevard between Beverly Boulevard and Third Street in what is now known as the Beverly-Grove Area (I still call it West Hollywood), had an oil well right in the middle of the street!
Here's an interesting story about that oil well written by L.A. Times columnist, Steve Harvey in 2010:

An oil well on La Cienega? A bit unusual

When the wooden derrick was constructed in 1907, it was in the middle of a bean field. After the boulevard was extended in 1930, motorists had to zigzag around the well.

August 21, 2010|By Steve Harvey, Special to The Times

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.
The Beverly Center stands a few feet from the old well site.

Photo by Ansel Adams, 1939. La Cienega near Beverly Blvd., Oil Well Island. LAPL Photo Archives

There are still numerous oil wells pumping away in our crowded urban zone. In fact, there's one INSIDE the Beverly Center. I've seen men in hard-hats enter on the San Vicente side of the building. Many of our city oil wells are disguised to look like buildings. We live one block from the one on Pico Boulevard and Spaulding Avenue. There's another one on Pico and Doheny with a lot of rocky mountain stone on the exterior...fancy! The most famous oil well is the one on what we used to call the Girls' Athletic Field, behind Beverly Hills High School. This one could use a bit more camouflage and a face-lift. 
Have a great weekend, my friends!  Don't slip in any oil!

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