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The Gush of Oil Was Music to 'Queen's' Ears

L.A. Then and Now / Cecilia Rasmussen

July 11, 1999|CECILIA RASMUSSEN

As oil prices seesawed, Summers set up a suite of offices in the new I.W. Hellman Building at 4th and Spring streets, on "the Wall Street of the West," where she distributed petroleum products without taking in any other investors.

Her penetrating eye for detail was accompanied by intelligence and patience, as she bought out busted operators on the cheap and waited as the city clamped down on the industry with tougher regulations, sending oil prices rising anew.

Summers' bank account swelled as the result of the Allies' enormous need for petroleum during World War I and the constantly upward spiral in automobile ownership. Her empire soon expanded to include theaters, apartment houses, a Wilshire Boulevard mansion, several San Fernando Valley ranches, including Casa Verdugo, the Summers Paint Co. and a highly envied art collection.

When Crown Hill's gushers finally turned to trickles, the working families there packed up their portable homes and moved on to the next oil strikes in Santa Fe Springs, Long Beach, Torrance, Inglewood and Wilmington.

Although several of Summers' wells continued to produce, their output paled in comparison with the new strikes.

Declining fortune brought rising troubles. Shortly after Summers moved into her new mansion on Wilshire Boulevard and Wilshire Place, on the spot where Bullocks Wilshire would rise in 1929, sheriff's deputies seized about $60,000 worth of oil and watercolor paintings to satisfy a court judgment against her in a $1,000 dispute over the sale of shares of sugar stock.

Not long afterward, Summers briefly moved into a home she owned on California Street, atop the Broadway tunnel. Soon, she turned it into an elegant and profitable hotel appropriately called the Queen. Summers, however, preferred to live out her remaining years at the Biltmore and Alexandria hotels. She died in a Glendale nursing home in 1941 at age 83.

Today, the artist behind the Angel City project on Crown Hill says the angel's face will be a composite of a dozen Los Angeles women of different nationalities. Perhaps one face he could keep in mind is that of the piano teacher who presided over the oil fields like a queen.

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