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Union Pacific Railroad Tidelands records

Identifier: 0243

Scope and Content

The collection consists chiefly of maps, blueprints, legal documents, and correspondence related to the dispute between the City of Long Beach and the Union Pacific Railroad (and various other property disputes) regarding the location of the tideland boundary line and the revenue generated from the sale or disposition of oil, gas, etc from the tidelands. The collection also documents the construction of the Aliso St. Viaduct in the 1930s.

Highlights of the collection include photostats of maps and early Rancho documents procured by surveyor Francis Bates, as well as field notes by Henry Hancock in the 1850s. One particular document is a certified copy (with official seal) of Field Notes of the Final Survey of the Rancho San Pedro, Don Manuel Dominguez, Confirmee, by Henry Hancock, Deputy Surveyor, Under his instructions of December 11, 1857. Similar documents are included for [Ranchos] Los Cerritos, Los Alamitos, Las Bolsas, San Antonio, Los Coyotes, La Bolsa Chica, and Santa Gertrudes.


  • 1940s-1950s


Conditions Governing Access

COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE. Advance notice required for access.

Conditions Governing Use

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Manuscripts Librarian. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

Historical Background

The story of the Union Pacific Railroad's involvement with oil and the Tidelands goes back to at least 1911 when the State of California granted the City of Long Beach its tidelands properties for development of commerce, navigation, fisheries, and recreation under a public trust doctine, meaning any development and revenues from such development would have to benefit the state as a whole rather than merely neighboring communities. (The tidelands are defined as land and waterways from the mean high tide to three miles offshore.)

Though oil had been discovered at Signal Hill in 1921, it wasn't until 1932 that oil was discovered in adjacent lands, mainly at the West Wilmington Oil Field. A few years later, the California Legislature gave the California State Lands Commission authority over California's ungranted public trust lands (tidelands, submerged lands, and navigable waters). In 1939 the City of Long Beach Harbor Department created a Petroleum Division and drilled the first well under the tidelands.

The years between 1932 and 1958 saw a succession of court cases and landmark decisions regarding the City's rights to conduct oil operations, property disputes between the City of Long Beach and the Union Pacific Railroad, and the expenditure of oil revenues. Throughout the twentieth century, the tidelands trust doctrine, overseen by the three-member California State Lands Commission, has changed drastically and what exactly is considered state public land use has been a debate since the beginning, leading to lawsuits and jurisdictional amendments over the years.

In the early 1990s, the Port of Long Beach purchased the 725-acre Union Pacific Railroad site, within the Wilmington Field off the coast of Long Beach for $405 million for the land and mineral rights.


33 Linear Feet (13 boxes and 1 mapcase drawer)

Language of Materials



When the Union Pacific Railroad and Southern Pacific Railroad merged in 1997 and the former did a housecleaning of its inventory, many of the Union Pacific's archival materials were saved. The records that were donated to USC were chiefly those that were generated in the 1940s and 50s as part of the Tidelands controversies, concerning the Los Angeles / Long Beach / Wilmington harbor areas, and documenting channels, wetlands, islands, elevations, and shoreline. In addition to many maps, drawings, and historical files, the records consist of many volumes of land surveys (done by civil engineer Francis Bates) which were done in the old tidelands area in the 1930s and 40s. Mr. Bates also obtained copies of many of the original rancho documents for this area (e.g. Rancho Los Cerritos) to provide a complete history of the harbor, onshore and offshore.


The records in this collection had been previously re-housed in bankers' boxes, though most of the papers were in original folders, envelopes, and three-ring binders. Most of this material was left intact and also left in its existing arrangement, loosely grouped together by subject or types of materials. Because the breadth of the collection covers more than just the 1958 court case of the City of Long Beach vs the Union Pacific Railroad, there are many legal documents and maps that were assembled and used as exhibits in other cases. Therefore it is not easily obvious which materials belong together or what their original organization was in the larger Union Pacific archive. For this reason, the part of the collection that USC received was kept as one body and not separated into series.

Custodial History

In 1997, after the merger of the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads, Union Pacific's Los Angeles office discarded many years worth of records and files as part of its housecleaning. Carol Nolan, an independent researcher who was doing contract work for Union Pacific, negotiated with Union Pacific to retain some of the maps, drawings, and surveys pertaining to the Los Angeles (including Wilmington and San Pedro) harbor areas from the 1930s through the 1950s. The actual Deed of Gift to USC was signed by Don Snoddy, an historian with the Union Pacific Museum. USC obtained the materials in December of 1997.

Related Archival Materials

Solano-Reeve Papers, 1849-c.1910, Manuscripts Department, Huntington Library

A.L. Sonderegger Papers, Water Resources Collection, Honnold/Mudd Library, Claremont University

Joseph Barlow Lippincott Papers, 1882-1942, Water Resources Center Archives, University of California, Berkeley


AT&SFRR: Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company

CRC: California Railroad Commission

ICC: Interstate Commerce Commission

LA: Los Angeles

LA&SLRR: Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad Company

LAD&TC: Los Angeles Dock & Terminal Company

LARC: Los Angeles Railway Corporation

LATR: Los Angeles Terminal Railway

MTRR: Municipal Terminal Railroad

NWPRR: Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company

PD&TC: Pacific Dock & Terminal Company

PERC: Pacific Electric Railway Company

PWA: Public Works Administration

RR: Railroad

SFRR: Santa Fe Railroad

SNRR: Sacramento Northern Railroad Company

SP: Southern Pacific Company

SPLA&SLRR: San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad Company

UP: Union Pacific

UPRR: Union Pacific Railroad

UP&SPRR: Union Pacific & Southern Pacific Railroads[?]

USC&GS: United States Coast and Geodetic Survey

USGS: United States Geological Survey

WPA: Works Progress Administration (later renamed Work Projects Administration)

WPRR: Western Pacific Railroad Company

Processing Note

Processing of the Union Pacific Tidelands records was generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). USC Libraries was awarded a Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from 2010-2012, "Uncovering California's Environmental Collections," in collaboration with eight additional special collections and archival repositories throughout the state and the California Digital Library (CDL). Grant objectives included processing of over 33 hidden collections related to the state's environment and environmental history. The collections document an array of important sub-topics such as irrigation, mining, forestry, agriculture, industry, land use, activism, and research. Together they form a multifaceted picture of the natural world and the way it was probed, altered, exploited and protected in California over the twentieth century. Finding aids are made available through the Online Archive of California (OAC).


Finding Aid of the Union Pacific Railroad Tidelands records
Jacqueline Morin
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Processing of this collection was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program.

Revision Statements

  • 2022 June: Finding aid updated by Bo Doub after rehousing and describing material that had been stored in Map-case 6 into Box 13.

Repository Details

Part of the USC Libraries Special Collections Repository

Doheny Memorial Library 206
3550 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles California 90089-0189 United States