AKA: Richfield Oil Company Headquarters, Los Angeles, CA; Richfield Building, Los Angeles, CA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - corporate headquarters; built works - commercial buildings - office buildings

Designers: Consolidated Steel Corporation (firm); Morgan, Walls and Clements, Architects (firm); Stiles Oliver Clements (architect); Octavius Weller Morgan Sr. (architect); John A. Walls (architect)

Dates: constructed 1928-1929, demolished 1968

13 stories

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555 South Flower Street
Downtown, Los Angeles, CA 90071-2300

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The Richfield Building stood formerly at South Flower Street and West Sixth Street;


One of the most compelling skyscrapers on the West Coast, the Richfield Building, erected for the Richfield Oil Company, had a stunning black/"midnight blue" and gold color scheme making it instantly recognizable on the skyline. Adding to its distinctiveness was the steel armature for a 125-foot, neon, rooftop sign, shaped like an oil derrick. Its senseless demolition incensed historic preservation advocates in Los Angeles, and further catalyzed the historic preservation movement in the city. The Richfield Building stood out as a masterpiece of Art Deco skyscraper design, one of architect Stiles O. Clements's most extraordinary designs.

Building History

At an approximate cost of $1,750,000, the Los Angeles-based architectural firm of Morgan, Walls, and Clements designed most of the building to accommodate the executive and general offices of the Richfield Oil Company; the twelfth floor housed a large amusement room, with stage, kitchen, cafeteria, barber shops, lavatories, and a ladies'lounge. The office tower had three basement floors, two for automobile parking and one housing mechanical equipment.

Ray Hebert, (in his article "End Arrives for L.A.'s Richfield Building," Los Angeles Times, 11/13/1968, p. B4), discussed the impact of the Richfield Tower on the architectural community in 1930: 'Yet what cause most of the comment about the building and made it an unforgettable landmark here was the color scheme, black and gold. Black was used to minimize contrast with the windows. But the black--a symbolic reference to Richfield's interest in the 'black gold' of the oil industry wasn't really black. It was glazed terra-cotta and light played tricks when it hit it. The gold? It was--and is--gold dust, pulverized and applied to the terra-cotta in a transparent glazing solution." The Richdield Building was one of the only black/midnight blue-toned office buildings in the US, its dark color highlighted further by its 14-carat gold detailing. Tiles for the building were produced by the Gladding-McBean ceramics factory at Lincoln, CA, northeast of Sacramento in Placer County.

A 130-foot tower stood atop the 13-story building, emblazoned vertically with the name "Richfield," and served as a landmark for aviators; Lighting on the rooftop tower was made to simulate an oilwell gusher; this tower motif was re-used at some Richfield service stations built in California, Oregon, and Washington; Haig Patigian did the exterior sculptures, all of which were to suggest "motive power."

A one-eighth-inch scale model was made of the Richfield building during the design phase.

Building Notes

Architect Stiles O. Clements (1883-1966) was the lead design partner on the Richfield Building. According to his daughter, Mary Clements Rosenast, Stiles O. Clements considered the Richfield Building his favorite work, executed at the height of his powers at age 45. (See Mary Clements Rosenast, "Stiles O. Clements: A Personal View," Los Angeles Conservancy News, 12:2, 03-04/1990, p. 8.)

The neon-lit, oil-derrick-shaped tower on the Richfield Building's roof was actually higher in the sky than that of the City Hall. City Hall, by ordinance, was to remain the tallest building in the city, but, because of the its location, the Richfield Building, with its neon roof sign, stood higher on the skyline. The Los Angeles Times explained in 10/1929: "Although just 350 feet above the sidewalk, the new Richfield beacon atop the Richfield Building at Sixth and Flower, will be the highest aviation guide in the city, in spite of the fact that the City Hall beacon is 435 feet above ground level. This apparent inconsistency is due to the wide difference in ground elevation of the sites of the two structures. The corner of Sixth and Flower is higher than the City Hall site, consequently the Richfield beacon will reach farther into the sky than that of its taller community neighbor. In constructing the new light tower, Consolidated Steel Corporation, which was awarded the contract by the P.J. Walker Company, builder, was faced with special engineering problems. The superstructure of the Richfield Building first had to be reinforced with heavier steel to support the added 70,000-poud weight, after which the 125-foot tower itself had to be constructed in such a way that wind resistance would be cut to a minimum. Although fragile in appearance, because of its great height, the structure possesses a strength commensurate with that of the most solid portions of the massive building it crowns." (See "Beacon on Building To Be Highest," Los Angeles Times, 10/20/1929, p. D8.)


A remodeling was done 01/1953; an annex of four stories was also added to the Richfield Building.


A notorious Los Angeles demolition, began 11/12/1968, with wrecking crews taking apart the interior; it continued for several months into 1969. The Richfield Building was only the largest of many buildings demolished to make way for the 52-story Atlantic Richfield Plaza, a parcel bounded by 5th Street, 6th Street, Flower Street and Figueroa Street; others included a four-story annex to Richfield, a small IBM building, an apartment building, Dawson's Bookstore, a car rental agency, and the Douglas Oil Building, an 11-story office high-rise. Demolished by the Cleveland Wrecking Company.

PCAD id: 332