Unocal Corp. this week unveiled a $2-million plan to renovate Santa Paula's two-story Union Oil Building, the historic Main Street structure in which the company was founded nearly 100 years ago.
The plan includes expanding an oil museum on the first floor, constructing a building to house the museum's centerpiece, a vintage wooden drilling rig, and creating a small visitor's park. Offices on the upper story will be restored to their turn-of-the-century appearance.
"We did stick enough away in our corner sock to be able to pay cash for our restoration project," Unocal Chairman Fred L. Hartley said during ceremonies Monday to announce the project. The renovation will be the centerpiece of Unocal's centennial celebration in 1990, he said.
The ornate brick and stone building was constructed in February, 1890, for Lyman Steward and Wallace Hardison at a cost of $32,000. One of their ventures, the Hardison and Steward Oil Co., occupied offices on the upper floor with two other oil companies, the Sespe and Torrey Canyon oil firms.
The companies merged in October, 1890, to form the Union Oil Co. of California, now known as Unocal Corp.
In 1900, Union Oil Co. moved its headquarters to Los Angeles, but the firm has maintained production offices in the Santa Paula building. Unocal employs 250 people and operates 21 oil fields in Ventura County.
The Unocal Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and has also been designated a Ventura County Cultural Heritage Landmark. It is the only remaining commercial example of the Queen Anne architectural style in Ventura County.
Characteristic of this style is the five-sided Queen Anne corner tower, embellished with a flower pattern above and below the windows, and a bell-shaped roof.
Much of the stone used in the building came from Santa Paula Creek. The distinctive purple Sespe sandstone used in the building's trim came from a Fillmore quarry.
The upstairs offices retain many of the original pieces, including a walk-in safe bearing the name of the Hardison & Steward Oil Co. Other features include 10 small fireplaces, each adorned with slightly different ornate tiles. The mantles of some of the fireplaces bear burns from kerosene lamps.
Over the years, the offices have been modified to make way for conveniences such as fluorescent lights. Some of the rooms also were converted into apartments.
Renovation plans call for refurbishing the offices with authentic fixtures and furniture, including a huge antique clock from Philadelphia, said Al Fiori, whose Los Angeles design firm, Fiori & Panas, is in charge of the project. Elaborate floral patterns on the ceilings will be reproduced from century-old molds, he said.
In addition, the antique drilling rig will be a moving exhibit and will be backlighted at night, Fiori said. To complete the turn-of-the-century effect, an antique wrought-iron fence will surround the park and the expansion.
The oil museum opened in 1950 in what had been a hardware store and post office on the first floor, said Bob Daries, the Unocal employee who was responsible for the exhibits. Items on display range from the massive wooden drilling rig to handmade tools and other paraphernalia used in the early days of the oil trade. All the pieces, Daries said, were recovered from area oil fields such as Torrey Canyon.
In addition to collecting, tagging and arranging the displays, Daries also painted the murals on the museum walls. One depicts a north-south cross section of the area's geological structures beneath Sulphur Mountain, where Lyman Stewart's crews at one time tunneled for oil.
Daries, who was born and raised in Santa Paula and worked in the upstairs oil offices as a draftsman from 1946 to 1955, also helped assemble the museum's collection of old photographs, letters and advertisements that offer a glimpse into the lives of the oil pioneers and their families.