07 June 2011

Olinda Oil Field History: Charles Victor Hall

Charles Victor Hall was an early entrant into oil development at the Olinda field and has briefly been mentioned in earlier posts on this blog, specifically the entry on 30 June 2009.  Recently, however, a descendant, Cliff Hall, communicated with the Chronicle with an offer to provide information on Hall and his life, including his work in oil prospecting at Olinda.  Thanks to Mr. Hall and the material, including the great photos herein, he sent for this post.

Olinda oil field developer Charles Victor Hall (1854-1933).  Courtesy of Cliff Hall.

Charles Victor Hall was born in May 1854 in San Francisco (though several of his census listings state New York) and seems to have come to Los Angeles around 1860 with his mother, Eliza Jane Hall, and sister Mary.  Thanks to the recently-enacted federal legislation, the Homestead Act of 1862, which allowed for settlers to get free 160-acre sections of land, Eliza and daughter Mary applied for and received, by mid-decade, parcels of land southwest of Los Angeles in an area now enclosed within Western Avenue on the west, Normandie Avenue on the east, Washington Boulevard on the north and Adams Boulevard on the south.  By 1868, Eliza's land was recorded as "Adams Street Homestead Tract #2," while Mary's was, after her marriage, known as the "Mary Moore Tract."  In the 1870 census, Eliza Hall was listed as a house keeper, while Mary was a schoolteacher.  Sixteen-year old Charles was merely "at home," but according to an obituary, he had enrolled in the University of California at age 13 and graduated three years later.  Actually, an 1870 university register showed Hall as in the "fifth class" or in a college preparatory program for the 1870-71 academic year and, if he continued with the university program as a "fourth class," or freshman, student the following year, he would have graduated in the class of 1875.
Charles Victor Hall, back right, with wife Josephine Dalton next to him and daughter Rowena at the front center. 
Courtesy of Cliff Hall.

At any rate, Hall, his obituary continued, eventually found work as a deputy Los Angeles City surveyor and he would either have worked for George Hansen or William Moore, who alternated as city surveyors for many years.  His sister, Mary, in fact, married William Moore in 1878.  That was also the year, Charles entered into matrimony with Josephine S. Dalton.  Josephine was from a well-known Los Angeles family.  Her uncle Henry, who left London as a young man for South America, came to the town during the Mexican era and was a merchant and rancher, obtaining a land grant for Rancho Azusa in the eastern San Gabriel Valley.  In the early 1850s, during the Gold Rush, Henry's brother, George, brought his family to Los Angeles from Ohio.  In 1853, Josephine was born to George and his wife Elizabeth (she, in turn, had been previously married and her two sons from that relationship, William and Charles Jenkins, were notable residents of the Los Angeles area for decades.)  George Dalton obtained a tract of land south of town near Central Avenue and Washington Boulevard on which he farmed and raised his family.

Charles Victor Hall and Fullerton Consolidated Oil Company crew members
at an oil rig on the Olinda field.  Courtesy of Cliff Hall.

After Hall married Josephine, he tried his hand in Oakland as an insurance agent.  The couple's first child, Frank, was born in the Bay Area in 1880 and was followed by three other siblings, a boy and two girls, though only Frank and the youngest, Rowena, survived infancy.  By the time a great land and population boom exploded in the Los Angeles region in the latter part of the Eighties, Hall was back in the south and working in real estate.  In fact, his major project was the subdivision of his father-in-law's tract (George Dalton died in 1892.)  He also inherited some of his mother's homestead, creating the "C.V. Hall Tract" in what is now the West Adams neighborhood.  In the late 1940s, the area in and around the Hall Tract was a flashpoint for the important court cases that struck down restrictive covenants that kept blacks and other minorities out of white neighborhoods.  Also of note is that two of the streets in this area are Dalton and Halldale, both of which run in segments down deep into south Los Angeles, with Halldale finally terminating below Sepulveda Boulevard in the Harbor Gateway area.  There is also a Halldale Elementary School in Torrance.  Hobart Boulevard, on which Mary Hall Moore later resided, was named for Hobart Stewart, a nephew of Eliza Hall who was killed by a trolley in Michigan.

The caption reads "Fullerton Consolidated Oil Co. No. 14 / May 16, 1905."
Courtesy of Cliff Hall.

Perhaps his real estate dealings gave him the finances to embark on a career in the oil business, as that industry was launched in the city of Los Angeles with the 1892 discovery of a successful well by Edward Doheny and Charles Canfield in an area just north and west of downtown.  In fact, while Doheny went on to initiate work at Olinda a few years later, Hall tried his hand in the business.  According to Samuel Armor's 1921 Orange County history, Hall, "whose experience consisted of a few shallow wells" in Los Angeles, was "not supposed to know a bad thing when he saw it," which seems to be an off-hand way of suggesting that Hall was inexperienced when he and three partners, George Owens, Martin Barbour and James Lynch, leased, in 1898, 58 acres at Olinda Ranch and started drilling.

The Fullerton Consolidated Oil Company property at Olinda.
Courtesy of Cliff Hall.

Hall's three partners, however, sold their interests to him in short order and he went it alone.  The first well came in successfully in 1899 and even brought in a staggering 20,000 barrels a day for a few days.  A second producer was not long in following and, by 1905, there were at least fourteen wells there.  This launched the Fullerton Consolidated Oil Company, a major player in Olinda for a decade, and which was capitalized at $300,000.  Meanwhile, Hall expanded his oil holdings to include other companies operating in several California fields and he aggressively advertised in such publications as the prominent magazine, Land of Sunshine.

Hall and his family resided at a house on the George Dalton Tract on Central Avenue and 20th Street and lived there for many years.  In the early 1910s, however, Hall and his wife were embroiled in a bitter divorce that was heavily publicized in the local papers, after which the oil operator emerged in a marriage with Maria Suetans, a native of Belgium who arrived in the United States in 1912 and who was forty years Hall's junior.  According to Hall's obituary, he retired from the oil business in 1915 and, indeed, in the following two censuses he was listed as not having an occupation.

By the 1920s, Hall and his second wife were living in the Westlake Park (now MacArthur Park) neighborhood and he had retired from business.  The 1930 census listed the two as residing in a home valued at $100,000, a princely sum for the era.  His obituary, though, indicated that, from 1920, he considered a ranch at Buena, a community between the present cities of Vista and San Marcos, near San Diego, his home (this ranch was later subdivided as suburbanzation spread from the city into "North County.")  In July 1933, the 79-year old Hall died at his ranch and was said to have made and lost millions in his real estate and oil careers.


Connie said...

My parents grew up in Olinda, both were born in 1925. Their fathers worked in the oil fields in the early 20th Century. Found out more history of the times. By the time i came along, Olinda (the Oil town) was pretty much gone. After WWII he came home as a home town hero and Shell gave him a job right away. Today he is suffering from Alzheimer's I can't wait to show him this web site and see if he can remember the history of Olinda & Charles Victor Hall!

prs said...

Hello Connie, thanks for the comment and am glad you found the post. Let us know if your father can remember anything. It's always cool to have someone log in who has a connection to the history of the area.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I enjoyed your blog about the Olinda Oil Fields History.Several members of my family lived and worked on the West Coast Oil Lease in the early 1900's. I have a number of photo's taken there. I'd love to connect with someone who has history there. Blessings, Pamela Dodd T.

aaron martinez said...

Great info - Does Cliff Hall live in Brea?

prs said...

Hi Aaron, I don't know where Cliff Hall lives, but I know it is not in Brea. Thanks for checking out the Chronicle!