Those who even remember this home-grown company probably do recall it primarily as the sponsor for a wonderful series of Fiesta posters in the late 1930s and early 1940s. This sponsorship was just one of several marketing innovations that made Seaside Oil one of the most creative companies in the business.
The company was founded early in 1898 in San Francisco. The two primary shareholders were John J. Cook of that city, who became president, and Joseph Musgrove of Santa Barbara. The other directors, each with five shares apiece, were all from Summerland.
The end of the 19th century marked the apogee of the Summerland oil industry. In 1899, 22 companies pumped out more than 200,000 barrels. Summerland had become the site of the world’s first significant offshore oil operations, with dozens of derricked piers extending out from the beach.
Seaside, early on, participated in this South Coast phenomenon, buying and leasing a number of Summerland tracts. Although the original Articles of Incorporation state that the company would, “explore for…produce…refine… [and] pipe…petroleum…natural gas…bitumen and other mineral substances…,” it was primarily a pumping company in its early years. The company utilized an invention by John B. Cook, the president’s son, which allowed pumping of six wells at the same time. In 1906, Seaside opened a refinery in Summerland, which opened up additional markets for the heavy Summerland crude. In addition to asphalts, Seaside products were most often used for illumination.
Seaside’s name eventually became synonymous with the sale of gasoline. The company took a major step in this direction when a fire severely damaged its Summerland refinery in early 1921. A new refinery was set up to produce gasoline of various grades, and soon after, the company opened two filling stations in Santa Barbara and Ventura, imaginatively named “A” and “B,” respectively.
As the precision of auto engines improved, so the need for finer grades of gasoline grew. The Summerland refinery continued to produce asphalt and roofing tar; gasoline production was shifted to a plant in Ventura. Seaside began opening gasoline stations with a vengeance. During the Depression of the 1930s, while other companies contracted and laid off workers, Seaside aggressively went after new markets.
Still, times were tough, and Seaside began to sell stock to Tide Water Oil to offset debts. By 1946, Tide Water owned Seaside. In 1937, Seaside had moved its headquarters to 330 State Street in Santa Barbara. From 1936 through 1941, Seaside sponsored the Fiesta posters and later underwrote the fireworks displays at the Old Mission.
In 1956, Seaside became a leader in the introduction of the plastic credit card, or courtesy card as it was it was then known, to the gasoline industry. The cards proved tremendously popular. Seaside was also a pioneer in the employment of women as service station attendants and in supervisory positions. Although the company continued to expand, with more than 400 stations in five western states by the early 1970s, Seaside was still a small fish in waters dominated by the petroleum giants. Even by the early 1960s, Tide Water was looking to divest itself of Seaside in order to concentrate on its East Coast interests, and, in 1966, Phillips Petroleum bought Seaside.
Self-service was becoming the name of the game, and Phillips began replacing Seaside operators with Phillips employees, cutting service station personnel overall. Seaside was becoming irrelevant to Phillips operations in an increasingly complex, international marketplace. In April 1973, Phillips dissolved the Seaside Oil Corporation, which had, in the eyes of the parent company, outlived its usefulness.