Frank A. Costello. Photo courtesy of Heather Young.
View of the plant of the California Pottery Company in Merced, California. From Laizure, 1925.
When properly dried, the products were fired in the kilns, which was fueled by crude oil of 14 degrees gravity,
atomized by steam. The products were burned for 98 hours, with a finish temperature of 2,100 degrees F (Cone 0.01).
The products included red hollow building tile, red roofing tile, red sewer pipe, chimney pipe, flue lining, floor
tile, irrigation pipe, drain tile, segmental vitrified blocks, partition tile, buff face brick, and buff fire brick.
The products were shipped out by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, which had run a spur known as Creegan Siding,
to the west side of the plant. The siding was named for the company secretary J. F. Creegan.
The first hollow tile went into the home of J. H. Simonson of Merced in 1922. Roofing tile and face brick were added in 1924, upon completion of the sixth kiln. Tiles were shipped to as far away as Hawaii. Firebrick and other products were added in 1925, when the eighth kiln was finally completed. These bricks were marked with either the name "MERCED" or with the abbreviated company name "C. P. Co." The colorful face brick and tiles produced by this company can be seen in buildings and homes in Merced that were built between 1922 and 1930.
In 1930, Frank Costello was forced to close the plant because of the depression and low demand for clay
products. Local investors, in an attempt to keep the plant open, formed the Merced Clay Products Company and
rehired the laid-off workers. But the plant was closed again within two years of operation. Gladding,
McBean and Company from Lincoln, California, acquired the property by auction for only $9,000. In a
competition-elimination move, Gladding, McBean and Company razed the plant, kilns, and smokestacks. Only the office and
a shed survive.
After leaving the clay business in 1930, Frank Costello returned to his law practice in San Francisco. He died there on February 13, 1954 at the age of 73 years.
Firebrick is buff and mostly uniform in color. Some may have faint iron staining on the surface. The surface is
smooth with minor crackles. The sides display faint transverse striations and faint light brown flashing. The
faces have curved wire-cut marks. The edges are straight and sharp. The corners are sharp if not broken. There
are two known marks "MERCED" and "THE C. P. CO. / MERCED". The "MERCED"
name is recessed in block letters that span 5 1/2 inches in length and 3/4 inch in height. The second mark spans
6 7/8 inches in length and 3/4 inch in height on the first line and 5 3/8 inches in length and 3/4 inch in
height on the second line. The periods are square-shaped. Surrounding the name are six round screw imprints 5/8 inch
across. The interior consists of 15 percent subangular cream feldspar, 5 percent subangular white quartz, and
5 percent round black iron, all less than 1/8 inch across, in a fine cream clay body. The brick was made using
the extruded stiff-mud process, wire-cut on the faces, and repressed. Length 8 3/4 - 9, width 4 1/2, height 2 3/8 inches.
Smooth face brick come in shades of buff and red. Some may be spotted with large irregular black iron
up to 3/4 inch across. The surface is smooth. Edges and corners are sharp. Faces have angled wire-cut grooves.
The sides may show faint transverse striations. The interior consists of 5 percent round brown to black iron,
some with blister holes, 3 percent subrounded yellowish white clay, and 3 percent subangular white quartz,
in a fine sandy clay body. The extruded stiff-mud process was used to make wire-cut face bricks.
Length 8 - 8 3/4, width 4 1/8, height 2 1/4 - 2 3/8 inches.
Rug face brick come in shades of red, buff, brown, and black. The surface is smooth. Edges and corners are sharp.
Faces have angled wire-cut grooves. One or two sides are deeply incised with transverse grooves that
are regularly spaced 3/8 inch apart. Some appear to be very closely spaced
double grooves 1/8 inch apart. The long sides contain 24 grooves, the ends 11 grooves, both with 1/2
inch margins. The interior of the red brick contains 5 percent round black iron, 3 percent subangular white
quartz, and 5 percent subrounded yellowish clay in an orange sandy clay body. The stiff-mud extruded process
was used to make the face-cut rug bricks. Length 8 3/8 - 8 3/4, width 4 - 4 1/8, height 2 1/4 - 2 3/8 inches.
Hollow tile blocks range in color from orange to red to brown, each being mostly uniform in color. Single
and double hollow partitions were made with 3/4 to one inch thick walls. One of the sides is smooth while the
other sides have longitudinal wide grooves ranging from 3/8 to 1/2 inch in width. Single partition tile
have 4 longitudinal grooves, while double partition tile have 8 longitudinal grooves. Another variation
is 12 transverse grooves in the single partition tile or 36 longitudinal thin grooves. These tile blocks
were made using the stiff-mud extruded process and end cut. Length 11 1/8 - 12 3/8, width 5 1/4 - 5 5/8, height 5 1/4 - 5 3/8
inches for single partition, 8 1/2 inches for double partition.
California Death Index.
California Pottery: Merced's Forgotten Art, Merced County Courthouse Museum, Merced, California, Exhibit June 1 - October 1, 2006.
Brick and Clay Record, California Company Builds New Factory, v. 57, no. 8, 1920, p. 678.
Brick and Clay Record, California Pottery Co. Incorporated, v. 64, no. 10, 1924, p. 747.
Brick and Clay Record, Merced Plant Output 15% Bigger, v. 67, no. 13, 1925, p. 952.
Brick and Clay Record, New Half-Million Dollar Company on Coast, v. 58, no. 1, 1921, p. 55.
Brick and Clay Record, New Merced Plant Starts Work, v. 59, no. 10, 1921, p. 752.
Brick and Clay Record, Roofing Tile Production Increases, v. 64, no. 6, 1924, p. 438.
Brick and Clay Record, Ship Tile To Honolulu, v. 65, no. 12, 1924, p. 852.
California Pottery Company Catalogue and Price List, Oakland, California, revised April 1, 1927.
Federal Census Records, 1880.
Federal Census Records, 1900.
Federal Census Records, 1920.
Federal Census Records, 1930.
Laizure, C.M., Merced County, California State Mining Bureau 21st Report of the State Mineralogist, no. 2, 1925, p. 173-183.
Lim, Sarah, Director of the Merced County Courthouse Museum, written communication, 2006.
Merced Morning Star, The California Pottery Co. Bids You Welcome, January 21, 1922.
Oakland Tribune, California Pottery Company of Oakland Common Stock, September 17, 1927.
Oakland Tribune, New Assistant Chosen, July 17, 1905.
Oakland Tribune, To Practice Law, September 15, 1904.
Contact Dan Mosier at email@example.com.