Right:  Overhead of the gas works downtown adjacent to the Union Station.

Below:  Even as high rise buildings began to appear in the 1960s, the gas works still dominated the landscape.

If you lived in Los Angeles in the 1950s  you would be familiar with the two prominent features of the skyline (excepting the fact there was no skyline).  The City Hall of course was the tallest building and the most identifiable but the other dominant structures were the storage tanks (also called gasometers) of the Los Angeles Gas Company.  The L.A. Gas Company supplied natural gas to Southern California from a distribution center located just east of downtown. This was in an industrial area next to Union Station and became known as the gas works.   The cluster of  tanks and their steel skeletons were used effectively in film noir to provided an atmosphere of entrapment and gloom.

The tanks were designed to expand and contract to meet customer usage which fluctuated at different times of the year.  By the 1960s the tanks were no longer needed as new pipelines from gas fields of  West Texas could meet all demands.  The tanks were removed at great relief to fire officials who worried about the potential disaster with these tanks near downtown.

The 1950 noir 711 Ocean Drive made extensive use of the gas works, both inside and out.

Top left - Bookies entering the compressor room.

Top and bottom right -Interior used where Edmond O’Brien and Don Porter conduct a meeting with the bookies.

Bottom left - The gas works is used as backdrop for meeting between O’Brien and Barry Kelley.

The Gas Works

Filming any scenes in the downtown area proved difficult to avoid the looming gas tanks.   Far left - Sterling Hayden turns corner in Crime Wave with the tanks visible through front windshield,  At right Broderick Crawford in The Mob.  This film was set in New York City but the gas works visible through the rear window is dead giveaway where the film was actually shot.

This photo was take from atop City Hall showing the proximity of the gas works to downtown.  The Union Train Station can be seen to the left.

The gas works provides an ominous  nighttime  backdrop for 1942’s This Gun For Hire.

John Lundigan corners Edwin Max on the roof of the compressor building in Follow Me Quietly.

Cornel Wilde entering the gas works compressor building in The Big Combo.

Glenn Ford and Barry Kelley talk as the gasworks loom in the background in The Undercover  Man.

By the early 1970s the gasworks was gone. The San Bernardino Freeway (I-10) and the Los Angeles County jail now take up much of  the gasworks property. The Union Station is in the lower portion of the photo.

This scene from 1952’s  The Turning Point was filmed on a sound stage but a backdrop of the gas tanks was used for the window,  such was their appeal in film noir.

The other gas gas tanks

The gasworks near downtown was the largest and most prominent group of storage tanks and was featured in more than a dozen films.  But several others tanks existed in other parts of the county.   One was in Long Beach and another in West Hollywood but neither were ever used in film noir.

The gas storage tank in  West Hollywood was located ironically across the street from the United Artist / Goldwyn studio.   

Although never featured in a film, the West Hollywood storage tank is seen in the background as Dick Powell turns a corner in 1951’s  Cry Danger.    

American Film Noir