There’s oil below the Beverly Hills….

In the area in which oil production would be the most conspicuous, the dense urban district heading west from downtown toward, Santa Monica, measures have been taken to camoflauge the oil infrastructure to allow it to blend into its urban surroundings.

Ruchala, Pg 62

In “Crude City, Oil” Frank Ruchala explores the often unpublicized and literally camoflauged relationship between Los Angles and oil.

Visibility for Ruchala then is key, but does the visible have to be historic? Or does it need to be continuous and permanent? Perhaps, remembrance, via appropriation, (as myth even) is a softer (or even more durable) approach. Over at Mammoth they suggest that maybe the real lesson of Ruchala’s essay is that instead of tending towards stasis we need to embrace flux.

Do we need to see/feel a thing to remember it, is perhaps another question?


Beverly Hills Oil Field detail, showing drilling islands. Oil field boundaries from California Department of Conservation. Map projection California State Plane Zone V NAD 83. via Antandrus


I found it interesting that the densest fields in terms of amount of oil production are located in the densest parts of LA’s urban form (including Beverly Hills and downtown) At least that is what it seems based on a simple extrapolation/calculation. If total production of all LA fields is approx 2 million barrels and the Beverly Hills Oil Field produces 850,000 barrels per year, from just three well sites, than this suggests a relationship between density of extraction/production and density of urban form.

Did the former result in the later? In fact Ruchala notes there is a close link between whether an oil field is actively exploited and property values, but it is one where production retreats as values rise. So, perhaps the density of production within the Beverly Hills Oil Field allows for the production to continue in an area of seemingly quite high property values? It probably helps that the wells are located near or on school grounds. Additionally, I suppose the fact that Beverly Hills land values are high probably has less to do with demands of urban density and more to do with exclusivity and segregation…

Note: Data for calculation from the spring 2010 CLUI newsletter, The Lay of the Land, (here)

Early on Ruchala makes clear there is some analog between the fields and urban form, for he notes that although only 30% of the area of LA is atop oil, it is a small but hyper-dense field, (Pg 54) perhaps, in contrast to at least the pop culture image of LA’s uber-sprawled urban form/condition.

Additionally, Ruchala’s essay also highlights the importance of myth and image making. He notes that unlike it’s relationship to water or Hollywood LA has never used oil as a basis for crafting it’s self narrative. There Will Be Blood is perhaps the closest Hollywood has come in recent years to even exploring this relationship between the history of southern California and oil and even therein LA unique role is not specifically addressed.

Finally, the Ruchala piece also makes clear that as much as oil has played an integral if unknown role in the history of LA’s development, there will be opportunities for even greater shaping of LA urban form and development in the future. Specifically, because even though production has decreased in recent years, the land dedicated to production in the greater LA area is extensive.  If by 2040 oil and it’s extraction will be completely erased from the LA basin, the land currently dedicated to it’s extraction/production will become available for other uses.

This then get’s to the very heart of Mammoth’s question. In this case the issue will go beyond simply camouflaging the current oil related structures and processes, but rather perhaps, making visible what will no longer be even partially visible. What will all that land be used for? Extending the urban sprawl of LA? Or perhaps, following examples like that of Duisburg Nord Landschaft these once productive lands can become new spaces for remembrance, creativity and recreation? Although, in this case, instead of one large park one could envision many distributed sites, each former well/pump station a min/pocket park. To borrow a phrase, perhaps the trajectory will be from machine in the garden to machine as the garden?


One thought on “There’s oil below the Beverly Hills….

  1. Pingback: reading the infrastructural city: chapter three index – mammoth // building nothing out of something

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