California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


California Brick Company
W. S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing Company

California Brick Co. letterhead
Letterhead donated by Chris and Sandra Ingram

W.S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing Co. letterhead
Letterhead donated by Chris and Sandra Ingram

History


In 1913, the California Brick Company reopened the defunct plant of the
Oakland Paving Brick Company, which along with its associated clay pit, straddled the Niles (Fremont) and Decoto (Union City) city-limit line. The California Brick Company was incorporated in June 1913 at Oakland with a capital stock of $400,000, by M. M. Birmingham, H. A. Kunz, and J. F. Locke. C. E. Fuller was manager of the plant and was previously manager of the Buffalo Paving Brick Company in Buffalo, Kansas. A sales office was set up in the Phelan Building in San Francisco, with L. R. McKenzie as the sales manager.

This company specialized in paving brick, but also made common brick, face brick, and partition hollow tile. Over the next year, the plant underwent a major remodeling effort to place it on a profitable basis. New machinery was installed including an improved auger machine for paving brick, new dry pans, a large continuous kiln with 16-foot chambers and a flue to take waste heat from the kilns to the drying tunnels, new handling machinery, a 10-ton traveling crane for both the plant interior and the yard, and a well equipped laboratory with a complete set of recording instruments. By May 1914, the California yard employed 100 workers. Shipments of 90,000 fire brick were made to Vancouver, British Columbia, sewer brick to Berkeley, paving brick to Oakland and Modesto, and common building brick supplied the Masonic Home in Decoto and some of the buildings in the San Francisco Presidio.

By 1920, this operation became a California branch of the W. S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing Company, based in Kansas City, Missouri, which began in 1885 by Walter S. Dickey. N.A. Dickey
N. A. Dickey was the president and manager of the California Brick Company, and A. C. Meyers was the plant superintendent, G. C. Thomas was the terra cotta engineer. E. B. Stoddard was the sales manager. The San Francisco office was at 604 Mission St. and the Oakland office was at 351 12th St. and later at 2053 Webster. They also had a warehouse at 105 Jackson St., Oakland.

The plant was called Dickey's plant no. 18. It contained three dry pans, two stiff mud machines, one dry press, and four repress machines. The bricks were dried in the dryers supplied with waste heat from the kilns. The bricks were fired in two Haigh continuous kilns, each 600 feet long and containing 42 chambers, connected by a large tunnel. A large overhead traveling electric crane was used for loading. Crude oil fueled the kilns. The plant had a 40,000 brick per day capacity. Between 75 and 150 men were employed.

California Brick Co. brickyard
View of the California Brick Company Plant no. 18 near Decoto and Niles. (From Oakland Tribune Year Book 1922)

This plant produced dark red paving brick, sewer brick, common brick, red face brick, red ruffled face brick, flue linings, drain tile, pressed brick, paving blox, roofing tile, bungalow building blox, architectural terra cotta, and a hollow partition tile known as "Dickey Mastertile". The Dickey Mastertile was used in all Class A buildings in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and other cities in Northern California, including for example the Livermore and Palo Alto veteran hospitals, U. C. Berkeley student union building, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Mills Tower, and the Alexander Building in San Francisco.
Dickey Mastertile ad
Advertisement from Architect and Engineer 1924.


The "California" red paving brick, which is the logo for this website, was used in the Alden and Golden Gate branch libraries in Oakland and for the horse stables at the San Francisco Presidio. Red common wire-cut bricks were used at the Masonic Home in Union City. The Dickey 12-inch red ruffled face brick was used in the Santa Clara Union High School. Roofing tile was used in the San Francisco Hospital.

California Brick Co. brickyard
View of the Haigh continuous kiln (From Oakland Tribune Year Book 1922).

In 1920, a service yard was opened at 7th and Hooper streets in San Francisco, where they carried a full line of products from the California brick plant as well as from the affiliated Livermore Fire Brick Works. The Livermore plant (Dickey no. 19) supplemented the products with mainly fire brick, enamel and ornamental brick, and mantel and tile.

In 1926, the California Brick Company name was changed to W. S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing Company. When Walter S. Dickey died on January 22, 1931, there were fears of plant closures. Then N. A. Dickey, the president, announced his retirement in June 1931. He was replaced by E. C. Moore. In 1932, Lester Duffy was the plant manager with 45 employees. The Dickey plant continued to operate until it closed in 1937. The brick property was purchased by the Pacific States Steel Company, which replaced the old brick works with their own plant. Pacific States Steel operated their plant until 1978, when it was abandoned. In 2004, after razing the old plant and cleanup of the toxic ground, a new housing development was built over the site.

California Brick Co. ad
Advertisements from Architect and Engineer 1920.

California Brick


Paving Brick


California paving brick came in a wide range of colors: dark red, red, orange-red, orange, and yellow-orange. The surface is smooth and flat and displays transverse grooves on the sides and ends and curved wire-cut marks on the faces. Some are flashed with white or light yellow, and some of the overburned brick display a black, blistered surface. Stack indentations are evident on some sides. A few rounded white feldspar and subrounded gray quartz up to 1/4 inch across are visible on the surface. Minor pitting and cracking may be present on some. The top and bottom edges around the faces are camphored with repressed marks. The short edges around the sides are rounded. The bottom face may display numerous, equally spaced, longitudinal discontinous grooves, which may be impressions from the off-bearing conveyor belt. The marked face contains the centered impressed name "CALIFORNIA" in block letters that span 7 inches and is 1 inch high. Raised lugs 1 inch in diameter are at each of the four corners on the same top face. Not all of the paving bricks were branded with the name. This brick is heavy, weighing 7 lbs. This brick was made using the extruded, wire-cut, stiff-mud process. Length 8 3/8 - 8 1/2, width 4 1/4 - 4 3/8, height 3 1/8 - 3 1/4 inches.

California Brick Co. red paving bricks
View of the California red paving brick at Golden Gate Library, Oakland.

California Brick Co. red paving bricks
View of the California red paving brick at Golden Gate Library, Oakland.


California Brick Co. red paving bricks
View of the California red paving brick at Golden Gate Library, Oakland.


California Brick Co. red paving brick marked face
View of the marked face of the California red paving brick.


Wire-Cut Common Brick


California wire-cut common brick are in various shades of orange-red and often with light yellow to black flash patterns on sides. The flash patterns are mostly transverse and some are criss-crossed with transverse and longitudinal patterns. The side surfaces are smooth, but often crackled or cracked. The edges are straight and sharp, but commonly chipped. Saw-tooth edges may be present made by the wire-cuts. Small pits are common on the surface. The faces display a strong velour texture with wire-cut grooves in the longitudinal direction. The interior consists of 15 percent subangular red shale less than 1/8 inch in diameter in a compact pale red to orange-red clay body. This brick was made using the stiff-mud process, extruded and wire-cut.

View of the sides of the California wire-cut common brick at the Masonic Home, Union City.
View of the sides of the California wire-cut common brick at the Masonic Home, Union City.


View of the side of the California wire-cut common brick with yellow flashing.
View of the side of the California wire-cut common brick with yellow flashing.


View of the wire-cut face of the California wire-cut common brick.
View of the wire-cut face of the California wire-cut common brick.


Hollow Partition Tile


The hollow partition tile is orange red to red containing white specks of feldspar up to 1/16 inch across. One large face is smooth with longitudinal grains and striations. The other face and two sides contain several 1/2 inch wide longitudinal grooves spaced 1/2 inch apart. One of the sides is impressed in thin 1/2 inch high lettering either "CALIFORNIA BRICK CO. S.F." or "DICKEY MASTERTILE" in a repetitive string. An earlier variation is marked with "DICKEY CLAY MFG. CO." on one line and "DICKEY PARTITION TILE" on a second line and upside down. Both are also in repetitive strings that truncate at the ends of the block. The hollow tile is 3/4 inch thick. California Brick Co. hollow partition tile measurements are length 11 3/8, width 3 5/8, height 5 5/8 inches. Dickey Partition Tile measurements are length 12, width 3 5/8, height 12 inches. Dickey Mastertile measurements are length 11 5/8, width, 3 3/4, height 5 5/8 inches.

California Brick Co. hollow tile and Dickey Mastertile
View of the hollow partition tiles, California Brick Co. (left) and Dickey MasterTile (right).

California Brick Co. hollow tile
View of the hollow partition tile with "CALIFORNIA BRICK CO. S.F." brand mark.

Dickey Mastertile
View of the hollow partition tile with "DICKEY MASTERTILE" brand mark.

Dickey Mastertile at Fregene's Pizza Shop in Petaluma
View of the hollow partition tile with "DICKEY CLAY MFG. CO./DICKEY PARTITION TILE"
brand mark in a wall at Fregene's Pizza Shop in Petaluma. Photo courtesy of Ralph Dean.

View of the hollow partition tile with DICKEY CLAY MFG. CO./DICKEY MASTERTILE.
View of the hollow partition tile with DICKEY CLAY MFG. CO./DICKEY MASTERTILE. Photo courtesy of Richard Nelson.


Red Ruffled Brick


The red ruffled brick is orange to orange-red with sides and ends displaying the ruffled texture in the longitudinal direction with transverse grooves. The faces could not be observed for description. This brick contains 20 percent subrounded red shale, sandstone, white clay, and subrounded to subangular red and white chert, ranging as much as 1/2 inch across. The clay body is an orange-red sandy clay containing about 2 percent pores. This brick was made using the stiff-mud process, extruded and wire-cut. Length 8 3/8, width 3 3/4, height 2 1/2 inches.

W.S. Dickey red ruffled brick
View of the Dickey red ruffled brick in the building at 1608 Webster St., Oakland.


References

Alpha, Tau Rho, Masonic Home personal communications, 2014.

American Ceramics Society Bulletin, v. 39, no. 5, 1960, p. 275.

Architect and Engineer, Feb. 1920, p. 135.

Architect and Engineer, July 1924, p. 22.

Architect and Engineer, June 1931, p. 79.

Architect and Engineer, Nov. 1924, p. 22.

Architect and Engineer, Oct. 1924, p. 22.

Architect and Engineer, Sept. 1924, p. 22.

Brick and Clay Record, Feb. 3, 1914, p. 383.

Brick and Clay Record, March 7, 1914, p. 609.

Brick and Clay Record, Oct. 21, 1913, p. 823.

Brick and Clay Record, Sept. 1, 1914, p. 511.

Brick and Clay Record, Sept. 15, 1913, p. 603.

Dean, Ralph, owner of Fregene's Pizza Shop, Petaluma, written communications, 2013.

Huguenin, E., and Castello, W.O., Alameda County, California State Mining Bureau, 17th Report of the State Mineralogist, 1920, p. 17-42.

Livermore Herald, Nov. 8, 1913, p. 7.

Nelson, Richard, written communications, 2014.

Niles Register, Aug. 25, 1932, p. 1

Oakland City Directories, 1923-1927.

Oakland Tribune, Annual Year Book, 1922.

Oakland Tribune, Annual Year Book, 1923.

Oakland Tribune, November 9, 1924.

San Francisco City Directories, 1914-1929.

Copyright 2006 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.