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No funding for hidden treasure

Landmark oil refinery, left unprotected of years, rusts away near the city it helped to build

Posted: December 5, 2009 7:45 p.m.
Updated: December 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
The first oil refinery built in California — one of the catalysts for the creation of Newhall — is hidden so well that people who work only feet away from the historic landmark can’t find it.

“I’ve heard people talk about it, I know it’s around here, but I’ve never seen it,” said Monserrat Ruiz, who has worked out of a home on the same street as the refinery for several years.

The site of the refinery built in 1876 rusts a couple hundred yards off of Pine Street, a dead-end dirt road connected to Newhall Avenue. No posted signs lead to the place that put Newhall on the map.

The city’s parks commission is trying to find ways to restore the refinery and turn the surrounding area into a city park, but the city has no money to fund the project, said Rick Gould, the director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

More than 100 years past its prime, the refinery looks more a candidate for the scrap yard than Heritage Junction; it sucked the last drops of oil from the ground generations ago.

The estimated cost for restoring the state historical landmark has increased by about 60 percent over the last few years.

City officials estimated it would cost $500,000 to restore the site in 2007. Now, it would cost around $825,000.

The city was given the refinery in 1998. But by that time, it was already in bad shape, Gould said.

The remnants of the refinery have been deteriorating slowly for years, he said.

Since there’s no money to fix it, the city has been able to do relatively little to resuscitate the site, Gould said.

Workers maintain the area by cleaning trash and other loose objects on the 4 acre property, he said.

What’s left of the refinery, which was damaged after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, is protected by a chain-link fence.

Rumblings from large commercial trucks and vibrations from nearby construction threaten to degrade the refinery further, said Parks Commissioner Duane Harte.

The refinery spurred the formation of Newhall, Harte said.

The refinery, built a year after Star Oil drilled its first Pico Canyon Well, was also the birthplace of Chevron Oil — one of the largest oil companies in the world.

“The place is falling apart,” Harte said. “Eventually we want to protect the refinery so it’s in as good a shape as it can be.”

At this point, the best thing the city can do is hope for a grant in the future that pays cities to protect cultural landmarks, Gould said.

Right now, no grants like that are available, he said.   

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