Oil, like gold, 50 years earlier made California a place where money was made and spent in explosive ways. The La Brea (“pitch”) Tar Pits were known and used by the natives of California stretching back hundreds of years. In 1892, Edward Doheny struck it rich with one of the first wells in the Los Angeles Oil Field (make image of oil fields around LA). The 1920s saw huge production of oil in southern California through wells near Santa Fe Spring, Signal Hill, Huntington Beach, and Beverly Hills. The discovery and extraction of “black gold” coincided with tremendous growth in roadbuilding and the use of the automobile.
For the Avodah study of oil, students were able to head out to the Hathaway Ranch and Oil Museum in Santa Fe Springs. Housed on five acres of the former Hathaway Home Ranch, with extensive collections of machinery and various photographs and miscellany of daily living, the Museum displays these artifacts on the very property that housed them. They then headed over to the Long Beach Historical Society, where “Black Gold: Oil in the Neighborhood” is currently a featured exhibit.
Some of the objectives of the Avodah were to be able to grasp the historical importance of oil in southern California and understand California as a place where dreams live and die. In many ways, Southern California became populated through the boom and bust of events like the gold rush and the discovery of oil, which still has effects on the culture of southern California today. Oil discovery in particular relates to the amount of freeways, cars, and traffic here. Sophomore Gerrid Knol commented that while some other students may have avoided this Avodah because it wasn’t exciting, he thought it was one of the most interesting ones he had participated in. “To be able to understand the effect that the kind of money people make from oil has on an economy is vital, especially today as many of the world economies are dominated by this. Being from Alberta, where there is lots of oil, it was very interesting to me, but I think it is something we should all understand.”