According to legend, Edward L. Doheny was in the downtown area when he noticed a cart with a black substance on its wheels. He asked the driver where he had come from and the man pointed in a northeast direction. Doheny investigated and soon borrowed money to buy 1000 acres of land in what is now the Echo Park area, but which was then outside the city. Soon the well Doheny dug was producing 45 barrels of oil per day and he was on his way to becoming one of the wealthiest men in America.
That original oil field, located along Glendale Boulevard between Beverly Boulevard and Colton Avenue, has long-since disappeared. But in its heyday it was a remarkable collection of mostly rag tag derricks covering the hillside. Within a few years there were over 200 oil companies and 2500 wells within the city limits. The Los Angeles area would become one of the major oil-producing areas of the world.
Doheny is usually credited with the discovery of oil in Los Angeles in 1892, and his oil well certainly set off one of the first land booms of the city. Nevertheless, the Natives were aware of the tar pits and so were the Spanish explorers who came through in 1769.
Father Juan Crespi noted in his diary at that time that some members of the party "saw some large marshes of a certain substance like pitch; they were boiling and bubbling, and the pitch came out mixed with an abundance of water." What they saw, of course, were the La Brea tar pits, which are located several miles from this first producing oil field.