In the 1890s, the small town of Los Angeles (population 50,000) began a transformation driven by the discovery and drilling of some of the most productive oil fields in history. By 1930, California was producing nearly one quarter of the world’s oil output, and its population had grown to 1.2 million.
In the decades that followed, many wells closed, but even more opened, surrounded by urban and suburban growth. Machinery was camouflaged, loud noises were abated, methane pockets were vented, as residents learned to live side-by-side with oil production facilities.
To this day, oil fields in the Los Angeles Basin remain very productive, and modern techniques have centralized operations into smaller areas or moved offshore. Gathered here are images of oil derricks loomed over California beaches from the 1920s and 1930s.
Oil derricks line the coast of Venice, California, c. 1920.
A family beach picnic with Signal Hill oil derricks in the background, c.1920.
A Long Beach home with oil derricks nearby, c.1929.
An oilfield in Venice, California, c.1930.
The Signal Hill oilfield in southern California, c.1930.