01 March 2011

The Tonner Canyon and Carbon Canyon Connection, Part 4

The último de los trés hermanos (or last of the "three brothers") of Tres Hermanos Ranch, a 2500-acre spread in upper Tonner Canyon purchased in 1914 from Walter F. Fundenberg, has been vaguely identified in some histories as "oil wildcatter Tom Scott."  As mentioned previously in this blog, an attempt to find a "Tom Scott" who was in the oil industry (a wildcatter being someone trying to successfully drill for oil in geologically-unproven areas) proved fruitless.  This was because there was no "Tom Scott."  Instead the third brother was William Benjamin (or Ben) Scott, who was also not a wildcatter, but someone who dealt extensively with proven and highly profitable oil ventures throughout southern California.

Scott was born 15 November 1868 in Warrensburg, Johnson County, Missouri, southeast of Kansas City, to William T. Scott and Virginia Carpenter.  Scott's father was a farmer there, but the family pulled up stakes and migrated to California, settling in Santa Paula, Ventura County, in 1875.  By age sixteen, Scott was working as a carpenter and found work building rigs for the Union Oil Company of California, an enterprise which started in Santa Paula and became a powerhouse in the state's oil industry.  Working in local fields, he developed a thorough knowledge of "dressing" tools for drilling wells, mechanical repair and operations, and other technical components, but also exhibited a managerial skill that served him well later.

In 1896, Scott married Luna Hardison, a native of Caribou, Maine, whose father, Ai (yes, A and I!) was an oil operator in Pennsylvania, where America's oil industry was born at the end of the 1850s.  The Hardisons then moved to Santa Paula, where Luna's brother, Wallace, joined forces with another Pennsylvania oil veteran, Lyman Stewart, and with Thomas Bard in creating the Union Oil Company--indeed, Hardison and Stewart first met at Titusville, where the 1859 discovery occurred, and then again at Santa Paula, where they formed their first oil firm in 1883.  Another sibling, Eliza, married yet another Quaker State oil producer, William Loftus.  Notably, there was another Pennsylvania oilman at Santa Paula in those years, as well--S. C. "Cam" Graham.  Loftus and Graham had been recruited to California by Lyman Stewart's brother, Milton, to assist in the Hardison, Stewart and Company business that morphed into Union.

In June 1894, Ben Scott moved to Los Angeles, which had just had its first oil field opened on a shoestring operation by Charles Canfield and Edward Doheny, and went to work building rigs on a contractual basis for a number of companies.  This was soon followed by his taking over drilling operations for many of these clients.  Then, Scott and his brother-in-law, "Billy" Loftus formed a partrnership to do their own independent drilling as well as contract work.  Meantime, Edward Doheny bought land from the Olinda Land and Water Company and drilled Orange County's first oil well, which was "put on the pump" in 1897 and still is drilling and producing today (see the recent post on the Olinda Oil Museum and trail for a photo.)  At the end of 1896, Union Oil Company came to Olinda and secured the acquisition of 1,200 acres at the heart of the field.

The following year, 1898, Scott joined forces with his brother-in-law and Union president, Wallace Hardison, to create a new company that leased 100 acres from Hardison's Union firm.  Meantime, Scott's other brother-in-law, Loftus, formed a partnership, also in 1898, with Cam Graham, Thomas Bard and two others and the Graham-Loftus Company became a big player at Olinda when it bought land for $10,000 from famed San Francisco capitalist James Flood's Petrolia Oil and Asphalt Company holdings there.  As for the Scott-Hardison enterprise, the new company was called the Columbia Oil Company and Hardison was its first president with Scott serving as vice-president.  Two years later, in May 1900, the company reorganized under a new name: Columbia Oil Producing Company with $1,000,000 in capital and controlling some 1,050 acres of purchased land, 3,600 acres of mineral rights and about 200 leased acres at Brea Canyon, Olinda and the Puente Hills.  In addition to Hardison and Scott, directors included Hardison's brother, Guy, F. X. Pfaffinger and Harry Chandler.  In October 1903, Columbia entered into a merger with Puente Oil Company, which was headed by William R. Rowland, and a $2,000,000 enterprise was born.  Now, we see the direct connection amongst the tres hermanos of Tres Hermanos Ranch: they were all partners in the consolidated Columbia and Puente oil companies.  Notably, Wallace Hardison wasted his fortune trying to publish the Los Angeles Herald newspaper from 1900 to 1904 and was seeking to rebuild his portfolio in oil when he was killed while driving a newfangled "horseless carriage" (read: automobile) across a railroad track (traffic lights, stop signs--natch.)

This merger gave Columbia access to Puente Oil's pipeline and refinery operation at Chino and Puente's existing sales and marketing business.  By 1907, Scott had purchased additional stock in the new company and ascended to its presidency.  That year, he joined other businessmen in forming the Orange Oil Company, which had 56 acres in Brea Canyon and Scott also was president of that firm, which experienced great success with its wells.  Finally, with as four hundred acre purchase in Brea Canyon, the Pico Oil Company was formed in 1909 by Scott, Chandler, Moses Sherman (a Chandler real estate associate from the San Fernando Valley for whom Sherman Oaks is named) and others.

William Benjamin "Ben" Scott (1868-1920), oil producer at Olinda and Brea Canyon and
one of the "three brothers" of Tres Hermanos Ranch of upper Tonner Canyon.

In 1912, Columbia consolidated with Orange and Pico, so that a larger company with $3,500,000 in stock was formed and which held some 5,000 acres of oil lands in ownership, leases and mineral rights in Orange and Los Angeles counties and which operated about over a  hundred wells, forty-nine in Los Angeles Couty and fifty-nine in Orange County.  By the late teens, Columbia's one hundred plus producing wells were bringing in about 75,000-85,000 barrels of crude oil per day.  According to a 1921 history of Los Angeles, "the substantial credit for this progressive accmulation of oil properties and the business organization is due to the foresight and genius of Mr. Scott, who became president of the reorganized company."  For seven years, Scott guided the enlarged oil company, until in August 1919 another even larger consolidation occurred.  Columbia, along with Union Oil, was absorbed by a new corporation called the Union Oil Company of Delaware, which had nearly $12,000,000 in capital.  At the start of the new year in 1920, the merger was finalized.  Two years later, Union Oil of Delaware merged with the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, otherwise known as Shell.  The 100-acre Columbia lease, obtained by Scott and Hardison in 1898, became a Shell property after 1922.

Columbia Oil also had some wells (known as "Scott-Arnold") in the Montebello Oil Field, which was brought into production on land owned by the daughters of famed 19th-century mining and real estate magnate, Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin, and by Walter P. Temple, whose father, F. P. F. Temple, had owned the Montebello field lands prior to the failure of his bank in 1876.  Among the landmarks found on the property that Scott and Columbia held at Montebello was an adobe house, built in 1844 by Casilda Soto de Lobo, the original grantee of the Mexican-era land grant of Rancho La Merced.  When Mrs. Lobo defaulted on a $2,000 loan from Rancho La Puente rancher William Workman, Workman foreclosed and distributed the La Merced ranch to his son-in-law, F. P. F. Temple, and to his La Puente foreman, Juan Matias Sanchez.  The latter occupied to Soto adobe and lived there for some thirty years.  When the aforementioned bank, owned by William Workman and F. P. F. Temple, suspended business due to a bad economy, poor loans, unsecured mortgages and subpar accounting practices (hmmmm, does any of this sound familiar?!), a loan was taken out from "Lucky" Baldwin.  Baldwin foreclosed, taking most of La Merced, although the Sanchez family was allowed to maintain the Soto adobe and 200 acres for some years afterward.  Fast forward to the late 1910s and Ben Scott not only obtained oil property at Montebello, but he also bought the Soto-Sanchez Adobe.

On 27 April 1920, however, just a few months after Columbia Oil was absorbed by Union Oil of Delaware, of which Scott had a seat on the board, the 51-year old suddenly succumbed to a heart attack at his palatial home west of downtown Los Angeles and was buried at Inglewood Memorial Cemetery in the city of that name.  The 1921 Los Angeles history referred to above poured praise upon the late oilman, quoting a friend who claimed that Scott "used the golden rule as a yardstick for the measure of his conduct" and another gushed (!) that Scott "was brave, kind, good, true.  His every thought was pure and honest and his every act a living expression of his noble thought."  Interestingly, this glowing account was sure to note that "no one could ever tempt him to join in the frequent 'wildcatting' practices that prevailed here as elsewhere."  It was noted that, when Columbia was sold to Union Oil of Delaware, Scott arranged for a special bonus to all company employees equalling 10% of their cumulative pay with the firm, a total of $110,000 in all.  Scott was also a director of the Citizens National Bank and the Los Angeles Chamber of Oil and Mines and was a committee member of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.

Scott's widow, Luna Hardison, probably with her family's assistance, created the W.B. Scott Investment Company in 1924 to manage the estate, but, within a few years, Mrs. Scott passed away, leaving her two children, William Keith and Josephine, as wealthy heirs to a fortune.  Josephine, who attended Stanford University, married Roy P. Crocker, who was president of Lincoln Savings and Loan from 1921 to 1969.  The elder Crocker turned over the business to his son, Donald, who manned the institution for another fifteen years, until he sold the business to Charles Keating in 1984.  With the Reagan-era deregulation of the savings and loan industry, free to enter "exotic" investment opportunities (hmmmm, does any of this sound familiar?!), Keating took Lincoln Savings and Loan to new heights of speculation and became one of the most famous/infamous names in the 1987 crash of Wall Street that led to bankruptcy, a notorious criminal trial, prison and the specter of the "Keating Five" group of politicians supported by Keating, including a future candidate for President of the United States, Senator John McCain. 

Meantime, Josephine Scott Crocker, whose brother Keith had remodeled the Soto-Sanchez Adobe, used it as a second residence for decades, and, as the oil production at Montebello declined and the post-World War II housing boom came to pass, sold off all but six lots by 1957 for residential development.  Finally, in 1972, she gave the landmark adobe house to the City of Montebello in 1972.  Today, the structure is run by the Montebello Historical Society.  Tangentially, there are Crocker family endowments to several universities, including the Crocker Business Library and a plaza at USC; a professorship in American politics at Claremont McKenna College; a professorship in lasw at USC; and professorships in law and in law and economics at Stanford.

Keith Scott, then, became the family's representative in the Tres Hermanos ranch enterprise, which was controlled through Chandis Securities Corporation, an entity created by Harry Chandler (get it, Chandler-Otis=Chandis?) to manage the family's massive portfolio of real estate properties.  Several years after his sister deeded the Soto-Sanchez Adobe, Keith Scott decided to join Chandis in disposing of Tres Hermanos Ranch, which was sold in 1978 to the City of Industry.

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