South-facing photograph of the Piru mansion (at lower right) and the surrounding gardens, shot from the mountain behind the mansion in 1900.
The mansion was built in 1889 by evangelical publisher David Caleb Cook of Illinois. According to the 1900 magazine story below (which this photograph originally illustrated), Cook built the mansion at a cost of $30,000 but never lived in it.
Other sources tell us Cook planted the garden with fruits from the Garden of Eden as specified in the Bible, including grapes, dates, figs, apricots and pomegranates.
Considering that Piru never took off as an oil field the way Pico did, if this were written today, we'd suspect it's advertorial copy. We can't know whether anyone was paid to publish it for the oil speculators, but it's not too different from other overtly boosterish magazine stories of the day.
The writer provides several interesting factoids. The unnamed "owner" who spent $30,000 to build a "dwelling" is David Caleb Cook, and the dwelling is the Piru Mansion. The writer states that Cook never lived in it because he was sidelined by business interests back east.
According to the published history of Cook's Elgin, Ill.-based company, he remained in that city until 1901 when he moved to California for good and then promptly sold the rancho to an oil company after oil was struck on neighboring lands. This accounting of Cook's movements is corroborated by the present story (although Cook must have sold the rancho in 1900, not 1901).
We learn from this story that Cook purchased the ranch property in 1887; that it was part of Rancho Temescal, an old Spanish land grant rancho; and that Cook is the person who renamed it Piru. We are further told that Cook sold all 14,700 acres lock, stock and barrel, including the town of Piru and all of its commercial and residential properties, which are enumerated. The writer lists all of the directors and stockholders of the oil company that purchased the property; he names the crops being grown in 1900; and he describes the flow of the Santa Clara River (he calls it the Piru River and claims it has never run dry). Of note are the two reports, from seemingly reputable sources, on Piru's petroleum potential.
The headline, "Piru Rancho: The Next Great Oil Field" is ours, as are the new photo captions; the story was originally published under the nondescript headline, "Miles of Untold Wealth." Nothing else has been changed.
It is not unnatural, perhaps, to expect great things of the West. Its scenic and climatic wonders, vast stock ranges, immense mineral, agricultural, horticultural and viticultural productions, and the petroleum era upon which it has just entered, with every indication of soon outranking the world, are well known facts even in the most provincial sections of the East.
Those whose horizons have been broadened by Western travel are accustomed to its magnificent distances, and to them, at least, the mention of a farm fifteen miles in extent will not seem so unusual a fact. But when the 14,700 acres of that ranch, owned in fee simple by one company, embrace within their confines nearly everything which has made California famous – scenic attractiveness, salubrity of climate, fertility of soil, productive orchards, unfailing water, gold, and, better still, petroleum – then the subject becomes an interesting one to all.
Such, indeed, were the possibilities of the Temescal Rancho when it was a Spanish grant, valued alone as unfailing grazing lands. In fact its riches were undreamed of when it passed in 1887 from the Del Valle estate into gringo hands and became known as Piru Rancho. Its new owner, an Eastern capitalist, with a somewhat utopian idea of producing somewhere in California an inviolable garden spot on a large scale, was attracted by its fertility and inexhaustible water supply. He selected a beautiful town site, where the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara division of the Southern Pacific railway passed through the property, erected buildings, and a $30,000 dwelling for himself, which he surrounded with rare fruit trees and tropical vegetation, but never occupied.
A thousand acres of the better watered lands were planted to oranges, lemons, apricots, peaches, prunes, olives, apples and almonds. The non-residence of the owner, enforced by his Eastern interests, greatly interfered with both his enjoyment and management of this great property. Oil springs or seepages had been noticed for years on the place, but as there was then no demand for oil they were considered of little importance. But with the coming of the Southern California oil boom came the realization that if the evident possibilities of the ranch in this respect were to be realized, the same must needs have that personal attention which the owner could not give. The ranch was therefore sold outright to a syndicate composed probably of the greatest number of the most conservative, progressive and financially solid local business men and capitalists ever brought together in this section for the development of any such proposition.
This Corporation, known as the Piru Oil and Land Co., has a capital stock of $3,000,000, divided into 3,000,000 shares at a par value of $1 a share. Of this stock 500,000 have been set aside for the treasury, to be sold only for development purposes.
But with $100,000 in the treasury for development purposes, which soon will be augmented by the sale of town lots and other reversions, it is probably that this block of stock will be sold. It is the purpose of the Company to vigorously push the development of their oil lands. Under these circumstances it is reasonable to believe that the Piru rancho will soon be known as the largest oil field of the State. Two wells are now pumping, two more being drilled, and several more under way. In a short time six strings of tools will be working, and as fast as one well is completed another will be commenced.
Ten anticlines can be traced upon the property, giving more than twelve miles of oil strata for development. The exposure of one hundred feet of out-cropping oil-sand would indicate about one hundred and sixty feet of uncovered oil-bearing sand, as the dip is about seventy feet.
Shale Cliff on this property is said to expose one of the finest beds of oil sand in California.
In many places on this ranch the conglomerate formation is impregnated with petroleum and rests upon a shale formation. The lower portion of this shale is interstratified with sandstone often impregnated with petroleum, forming oil-sand, the outcropping strata of which resemble the very remunerative oil-sands seen in the Puente and Los Angeles fields.
Another strong indication of the existence of extensive deposits of petroleum on the Piru Rancho is that the same sandstone which extends through the ranch is yielding remunerative results in contiguous territory on either side of this property. The report of Edward L. Doheny on this point would seem conclusive. Mr. Doheny not only has a technical education but has had large experience as a mining engineer and oil expert. He is in fact the great pioneer in the development of the petroleum deposits of Southern California, having discovered the now famous Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Fullerton fields.
In his report of April 6, 1900, he says:
Depending entirely on the identity of the strata exposed in the Piru Rancho with those penetrated by wells of the neighboring districts of Torry Cañon and Modello, it can be safely predicted that there is a rich and extensive oil region within the boundaries of said rancho.
"There is scarcely an area of half a mile square, that I have seen on the Piru Rancho, that does not contain within its limits evidences of the existence of petroleum, and much stronger evidences than are considered sufficient to justify the organization of companies and the expenditure of large sums of money at points more remote for transportation, from sources of supply, from oil markets, and with much less favorable surroundings than those of the Piru Rancho."
Prof. W.L. Watts of the California State Mining Bureau in his report dated Jan. 16, 1899, pronounced this property to be the most promising oil territory which he examined.
Nor is this all, for the question of transportation for oil produced has an important relation to profits. In this particular the property under discussion is most favored. Its elevation is such that there is an easy grade for a pipe-line to the harbor of Ventura thirty-three miles distant. The Union Oil Company is now operating a pipe-line from the vicinity of the Piru Rancho to Ventura. The Pacific Coast Oil Company's pipe-line to Ventura crosses the Piru Rancho, and as a common carrier, this company will convey the Piru Oil and Land Company's product to the seaboard.
Assuming, from the unbiased and competent evidence quoted herein, that there are ten thousand acres of oil-bearing land on this ranch, and considering the fact that undeveloped adjacent oil lands are valued at an average of two hundred dollars an acre, the present value of the oil lands alone on this property is $2,000,000. Every acre of good oil land should during its life produce $20,000 net. Assuming that one-fourth of the ten thousand acres of pronounced oil lands on this ranch are remunerative oil lands, the value of the acreage thus reduced would be $50,000,000. Lands in the Los Angeles field, where the specific gravity of the oil and the price received is much lower than is that of the Piru product, have sold as high as $7,000 an acre. But, taking the value of the defined oil lands on the Piru Rancho at but $4,000 an acre, and assuming that but one-quarter of the pronounced acreage is oil-bearing, the result would nevertheless give a value of $10,000,000 to one-fourth of the lands of this great ranch, leaving eleven thousand acres to be transformed into extra dividend or development funds.
It is in this very attribute that this promising oil territory has an immense advantage over other oil fields. Both theory and experiment demonstrate that there can be no question of the richness of the oil deposits of the Piru Rancho. But, in addition to this, are already thriving orchards, valuable grain and pasture lands, livestock, machinery and tools, and a beautiful town site with its buildings, and most valuable of all, a priceless water right. All this is owned in fee simple by the company, and together with the value of its oil property goes into the value of every certificate of the corporation's stock.
The following figures are eloquent of the value of this property exclusive of oil lands:
1100 acres of orchards ... @ 150.00 ... $165,000
500 acres of grain lands ... @ 25.00 ... 12,500
1500 acres of pasture lands ... @ 10.00 ... 15,000
800 acres of town site and buildings thereon ... @ 300.00 ... 240,000
Water rights, pipes, flumes, etc. ... 250,000
Horses, farming implements, etc. ... 15,000
Machinery, tools and oil well supplies ... 25,000
Total ... $722,500
This great property is systematized in the most approved manner. It has five separate divisions, each with its own buildings, equipments, etc. They are known as Piru, Middle Ranch or Esmeralda division, Temescal, Calara, and Esperanza. On the latter is one of the oldest gold mines of the State, which under proper development would undoubtedly yield considerable income. Free gold can be seen in the present shaft. Placer gold found shows that there is a rich quartz vein which connects with the famous quartz ledge of Diablo Cañon. Two complete telephone systems, one for the mine and the oil plants, and the other for the horticultural interests, connect the town office with each division of the ranch. The strength of the soil can never be depleted, for it is a chert rock loam which grows richer as the rock disintegrates, and is broken by cultivation.
Being above frost and isolated from less well-cared-for orchards, the trees are exceptionally vigorous, and entirely free from smut and scale.
Through the entire length of this fertile valley runs the Piru River, fed by numerous adjacent springs, and eighty miles of watershed. Despite the recent dry years, on account of which many of the neighboring water courses have gone dry, the Piru River has never failed. At places it affords damp or excellent alfalfa and pasture lands in this ranch.
Geological dykes crossing the creek at intervals bring to the surface even the sub-percolation so that none of the natural flow is lost, which a reasonable expenditure of money would multiply its volume many times. Without any particular development its present volume is remarkable. During July of the present year a constant head of two hundred and eighty-five inches was utilized, and then did not exhaust the undeveloped supply.
The entire ownership of this great water right is vested in the Piru Oil and Land Company, and has been estimated to be worth $500,000.
Flumes and seven miles of pipe carry the water from its head springs to a reservoir located at an elevation of one hundred and fifty feet higher than the town. The arrangement is such that this reservoir is emptied and replenished each night.
A plentiful supply of pure water under pressure is an important item to any town, but this is not the only advantage enjoyed by the town of Piru.
Its distance from the ocean, elevation and dry atmosphere make the location exceedingly healthful. The town site comprises eight hundred acres and is a smooth gentle slope from the railway to a mesa which, rising fifty feet higher and sloping back for several hundred feet to bold foot-hills, affords a charming site for villas. It already contains the home place and many pretty cottages. Below, in the townsite proper, are some forty-two dwellings, hotel, general merchandise store, storehouse, packing-house, a drying plant with a capacity of seventy-five tons a day, etc., all the property of the company. There is also a fine church building and a creditable schoolhouse.
As before intimated, it is the company's purpose at present to sell water, town lots and develop oil lands. As the entire ranch, together with its water and all improvements is owned in fee simple by the company, with no leases or royalties to diminish dividends, there seems no reason why it should not be able to pay good dividends and at the same time accumulate a reserve or sinking fund for future emergencies. A personnel containing, as this one does, so many well known, conservative, solid residents of Southern California, is not only an assurance of that wise foresight and those correct business methods which mean large success, but will be interesting to those who care to follow the future development of this interesting domain.
At the head of the corporation, as president, is W.W. Neuer, one of the safest and most successful oil operators in the United States. To Mr. Neuer, who came to California with a thorough experience in Eastern fields, the remarkable development of the Whittier field, through the agency of the famous Central Oil Company, of which he is also president, is principally due.
The secretary of the company is Hon. Robert N. Bulla, one of the most highly honored of the public men of California. Senator Bulla is also secretary of and attorney for the Central Oil Company.
The other officers and directors are numbered with the most conspicuous people of Los Angeles, and are as follows:
Vice-president A.N. Davidson, vice-president of the Empire Steam Laundry Company.
Treasurer, Wm. G. Kerckhoff, president of the Kerckhoff-Cuzner Mill and Lumber Company.
Assistant Secretary, Randolph H. Miner, vice president Crystal Springs Land and Water Company.
I.B. Newton, treasurer Harper & Reynolds Co.
Ralph E. Heath, formerly of Pennsylvania, is the resident manager at Piru City.
Other stockholders are:
Thomas Hughes, capitalist and oil expert.
Ben Kingsbaker, wholesale tobacconist.
H.R. Lacey, vice-president East Whittier Oil Co.
W.F. Botsford, president California Bank.
W.M. Garland, capitalist and real estate dealer.
J.M. Johnston, retired merchant.
D.F. Hill, president Farmer & Merchants Bank, Stanberry, Mo.
John R. Haynes, physician.
E.R. Smith, physician.
J.M. Elliott, president First National Bank.
J.C. Drake, auditor City Water Company.
W.A. Barker, Barker Bros. Furniture Co.
Herman Baruch, wholesale grocer.
Chas. Monroe, attorney.
Percy R. Wilson, attorney.
J.A. Graves, president and attorney Graves Oil Company.
A.H. Wilcox, capitalist.
Harry Gray, wholesale grocer.
Hiram Mabury, capitalist.
S.C. White, proprietor Monarch Brick Yard.
Wm. Mead, cashier Central Bank.
F.T. Bicknell, physician.
John A. Forthman, president Los Angeles Soap Company.
J.W.A. Off, cashier State Bank and Trust Company.
Wm. J. McIntyre, attorney.
W.S. Porter, vice-president J.D. Hooker Company.
Richard G. Beebe, manager Evening Express.
Hugh T. Duff, proprietor Machinery and Electrical Company.
F.O. Johnson, proprietor Hotel Westminster.
C.E. Payne, superintendent North Whittier Oil Company.
Chas. Stegmaier, proprietor Stegmaier Brewing Company, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Philip Forve, Forve Bros., plumbers, Wilkesbarre [sic], Pa.
E.T. Long, contractor, Wilkesbarre [sic], Pa.
H.W. Hines, Santa Fé agent, Pasadena.
Frank W. Larned, attorney, Wilkesbarre [sic], Pa.
C.H. Sessions, manufacturer, Cleveland, Ohio.
C.M. Davis, publisher, Pasadena, Cal.
Main offices of the company are in the Wilcox Building, Los Angeles, Cal.