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Pumping New Life Into Pioneer Oil

refinery1880The Santa Clarita city council will consider pumping new life into the historic, but crumbling Pioneer Oil Refinery which first brought “black gold” to California in the 1800s.

“We believe it to be one of the only historic old oil refineries from 1800s left in America. It may be the only one left in the world. So it’s critical,” said City Council Member Laurene Weste.

At Tuesday night’s meeting Weste is hoping the council will adopt The Pioneer Oil Master Plan which would restore buildings and stills, create walking and hiking trails to allow visitors to view oil storage tanks and upper portions of the site, relocate the pump house to an area that will protect it from major water flows, and add picnic areas, restrooms, parking and a trail connection.

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The plan would revitalize the 4.5 acres by bringing it out of the shadows of history and back into the bright light of public usefulness.

“This is a very interesting potential park for our community to not only have a beautiful space with an amphitheater and trails and lots of beautiful trees in a park but also an educational piece where a piece of our incredibly interesting history from the 1800s can be shared for generations to come,” Weste said.

Self-described “part-time local historian” Stan Walker says he’s not very thrilled with what he sees on the plans.

“The refinery site is a sensitive area where traffic should be limited, not encouraged. It should be restored and surrounded by a fence, with access only allowed during scheduled tours by the SC Historical Society or similar groups.” Walker said.

The Pioneer Oil Refinery, located off of Pine Street in Newhall, was built in 1876, making it the first commercial oil refinery in California and the oldest oil refinery in the country still standing.

According to the city, from approximately 1876 to 1888, the refinery made kerosene and grease from crude oil produced in Pico Canyon. Standard Oil Company restored the refinery in 1930 and opened it to the public.

The site suffered substantial damage in the 1994 earthquake and continues to deteriorate from encroaching businesses and vandalism. In 1998, Chevron donated the site to the City of Santa Clarita. The property is designated as a State Historical Site.

Implementation of the Pioneer Oil Master Plan would cost in excess of a million dollars, according to Weste and she admits the funding is not in place, yet.

“We will be looking for grants and for other funding and other collaboration and getting the master plan adopted is the critical first piece,” Weste said.

Walker says he can understand the $1-million dollar cost.

“They took a long overdue restoration/protection project, which I am in favor of, and turned it into a public park with a picnic area, an amphitheater, and trails — which I am not in favor of,” Walker said.

City Council meetings begin at 6 p.m.

To view a full color concept drawing of the Pioneer Oil Refinery Master Plan, click here.

For historical photographs of the Pioneer Oil Refinery collected and commented upon by Stan Walker, click here.

Pumping New Life Into Pioneer Oil

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