Cardiff Tower – Los Angeles, California - Atlas Obscura

Cardiff Tower

This "synagogue" is not what it seems to be.  


Nestled in a quiet, largely Orthodox community just south of Beverly Hills, this stately synagogue doesn’t appear out of place, until you look closer…

Though it towers over the other synagogues, schools, and small homes and businesses that surround it, the beige and white structure at the corner of West Pico Boulevard and South Doheny Drive does an admirable job of blending into its sleepy environs. In this sense, the building’s designers achieved their goal of creating a building that was largely invisible.

Observing the “synagogue,” questions emerge. Where are the windows? Why is there a loading dock? Visitors arriving at the right time may even catch a glimpse of the building’s tower moving.

The mysterious features have a simple, if bizarre explanation: The “synagogue” is actually an active oil well site containing 40 functioning wells. It was designed to resemble a synagogue to allay the fears of concerned community members.

Built by Occidental Petroleum in 1966, the Cardiff Tower was hailed as the first “architecturally designed oil derrick.” The ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by the mayor of Los Angeles himself, who remarked that the building was “an outstanding contribution to civic beauty.”

Despite the praise, few developers considered it worthwhile to follow the Cardiff Tower’s example in disguising unsightly oil derricks. Nevertheless, the Cardiff Tower is a pleasant monument to a timely truce between corporate interests and a self-sustaining community.

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November 15, 2017

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