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.
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In this clip Charles McGraw is being pursued through the gas works in Roadblock.
Filming any scenes in the downtown area proved difficult to avoid the looming gas
tanks. Far left -
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-
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 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.