The Tataviam Indians had been using petroleum found on the surface of this canyon on the north side of the Santa Susana Mountian long before Europeans arrived. Pio Pico (last Mexican governor of California) acquired land in the area in the 1850s and discovered asphaltum in what became named Pico Canyon. This asphaltum was shipped off to Los Angeles to be used on roofs and waterproofing other products. In the 1870s, Pico sold the land to Star Oil Company which brought Charles Alexander Mentry from the east to wildcat the site in about 1872 or 3. By 1875 oil was being produced in small quantities using primitive spring pole drills. Using a new steam driven pump, a well was driven deeper and in 1876, for the first time in the area, large quantities of oil were produced at well Pico Number 4. This was the first commercial well in the west at a depth of 617 feet. Star Oil Company become California Star Oil, then Standard Oil and later Chevron. When Pico Number 4 closed in 1990, it had been the longest producing oil well in the world. Also in 1876, the town of Newhall was established, the railroad came to town, and a tunnel between Newhall and the San Fernando Valley was completed, at the time, one of the longest in the country and still in use. The oil was shipped to the first refinery in the west in Newhall. |
Mentryville, California's first oil boom town, was never a formal organized town. Founded about 1876, it was a ramshackle company town of shacks built next to large shade trees, or the trees followed. Most of the lumber for these shacks was redwood and when the residents moved out about 1900, they took the redwood with them. Some of the lumber was reused in Newhall. Two bunkhouses were built for the single workers and families lived I the shacks. The bakery provided backed good to Newhall but all that remains today is the concrete pad for the ovens. The one-room Felton School was opened about 1883. By 1921, the population was declining and the school was about to be closed because it didn't have the required 5 student minimum. A family with nine children moved to Mentryville and the school remained opened until 1932. Following the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the school was restored and set on a new foundation, just in time to survive severe floods following a fire that almost took the building. The building is mostly empty now after evacuating everything in the hours before the fire and it's all still in storage. Mentryville was a dry town leaving workers to travel to Newhall for alcohol.
The Northridge earthquake was also hard on the 13-room mansion that Mentry built and was later used by a series of superintendents and foremen. The house, then on dirt with no foundation, jumped up and over 18 inches during the erarthquake. The house too was set on a new foundation and that foundation is credited with allowing the house to survive the same floods as the school. The interior of the house has had little repair since the earthquake, except those rooms used as filming locations. A restored barn shares a similar story about foundation and flood. There is an early garage for maintaining vehicles and "The Movie House" and "Jail" were built by film crews.
Mentry died on October 4, 1900 and the community started bearing his name after his death. Standard Oil (now Chevron) bought the successor of California Star Oil about 1920 and wrapped up production about 1990. The last caretakers, Francis Lagasse and his family, moved out after the earthquake. Prior, Lagasse had persuaded Standard Oil of California to allow him to restore the town and in 1995 Chevron donated 800 acres to the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy as a park. Today, little remain besides these few buildings, but eucalyptus and pepper trees tell tales of homes now long gone.
The Friends of Mentryville tries to preserve the site and operate occasional tours. Mentryville Park; 27201 Pico Canyon Road Newhall, CA 91381-1804 - (661) 259-2701