Pioneer Oil Refinery in Newhall added to national historic site registry

The Pioneer Oil Refinery in Newhall. 012721/ Dan Watson/The Signal
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California’s first successful oil refinery, in Newhall, was recently added as a historic site in the National Register of Historic Places. 

The Pioneer Oil Refinery joined a list of more than a dozen other historic sites that were added in mid-December, according to the National Park Service’s website. It has also been a part of the California Register of Historical Resources after receiving recognition in 1930 and as a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 1975. 

Located on Pine Street, the oil refinery was built in 1876 by the California Star Oil Works — today known as Chevron — and was used to process oil discovered in Pico Canyon until around 1888. By then, it began providing water to the oil drilling operation at Pico No. 4 in Mentryville, according to the city of Santa Clarita, which acquired the site in 1997 via donation by Chevron.

With the pump house removed to protect it during construction near the site, the exposed pumps can be seen at The Pioneer Oil Refinery in Newhall. 012721/ Dan Watson/The Signal

“It was the first commercially successful oil refinery in the western United States and is believed to be the oldest existing refinery in the world,” according to 

“It has long been a State Historic Landmark, and I commend the city for securing the national recognition this local treasure deserves,” said Leon Worden, vice president of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, who added that the society’s former board member and city Parks Commissioner Duane Harte would have welcomed the news about the site’s addition to the registry because his dream was to turn “the refinery into a historic park.” 

“For generations to come, people will be able to see and learn about a pivotal period in California history in the proper context — in the place where it happened,” added Worden.

The Pioneer Oil Refinery in Newhall. 012721/ Dan Watson/The Signal

Over time, City Council members have worked to preserve and restore the site. Their most recent action was in November, when the council approved more than $250,000 to stabilize and restore the structures within the site. 

“The structures at the site are in poor to fair condition and are particularly susceptible to earthquakes, high winds, soil deposits, water runoff, and planned construction on adjacent parcels,” according to a city agenda report. 

The project is expected to provide stabilization and protection of six structures — including the pump house, acid and wash tanks, and stills — to prevent future damage. 

Pioneer Oil Refinery is not currently open to the public, but future plans include the creation of an educational park to share the history of the site with residents and visitors, according to city officials. 

To learn more about the refinery, contact Lance O’Keefe, Recreation and Community Services manager, at 661-250-3716.

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