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Diamond Brick Company

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

History

C.A. Hooper
Charles A. Hooper, born in Bangor, Maine, in 1843, came to California in 1863 to join his father, John Hooper, at a gold mine in Plymouth. In 1865, Charles went to San Francisco to establish the C.A. Hooper & Company, supplying lumber to the growing city and surrounding region. He built up a large lumbering business and eventually became known as the "Lumber King of California." He married Ida Snow in 1880, and they made their residence in Alameda, where they raised two daughters, Isobel and Idolene. In 1900, he purchased the Los Medanos Rancho on the banks of the San Joaquin River where the City of Pittsburg now stands in Contra Costa County. Here he established a lumberyard and other businesses, including a steel mill and rubber works. One of his ventures also included the Diamond brick manufacturing plant in Pittsburg.

The Diamond Brick Company opened for business in 1908 at 573 Market St., San Francisco. The office of the company for many years was in the Balboa Building. In 1916, they moved to 593 Market St., San Francisco. The brick works were located at the east end of 5th Street in Pittsburg, where later the Johns-Manville asbestos plant was located. C.A. Hooper was the company president. E.T. Maples was the first plant manager. Arthur Brangwart was the plant foreman and, in 1910, there were 14 Italian laborers employed at the brick plant. This was increased to 80 employees when the plant capacity was doubled in size a year later.

Local clay was used. The plant was run by a 250 h.p. electric motor. The brick machinery was of the stiff-mud extruding process and wire-cut. It had a capacity of making 8,000 bricks per hour or 80,000 per day. This included 50,000 common bricks and 30,000 pressed bricks. They also made an 8-sided clay paver that was about two inches thick, according to Jess Hurtado.

Diamond Brick Co. brickyard
View of the plant of the Diamond Brick Company. Courtesy of the Pittsburg Historical Society.

The Diamond bricks were shipped for use throughout San Francisco Bay Area. They produced shades of red stock brick and three shades of buff face brick. They also produced their trademarked "Texturesque" line in red, buff, and gray colors. Texturesque was a fine stippled texture applied to the surface of the brick. Fine examples of the Diamond brick can still be seen at the Hancock School on Filbert St. in San Francisco, the former Riverview High School on 4th St. in Antioch, and the Clawson School at Peralta and 32nd streets in Oakland. Many bricks were also shipped to the San Francisco Presidio and Mare Island at Vallejo. The Diamond red brick was used in the Model Brick Residence on display at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.

The brick company closed in 1920, during the decline of the building brick market. The plant was dismantled in 1925, and the site became the new plant of Johns-Manville Asbestos Company.

Diamond Brick Co. kilns
View of the round kilns of the Diamond Brick Company. Note woman standing
at far right. Courtesy of the Pittsburg Historical Society.

Although the Diamond bricks were of excellent quality, Charles Hooper did not make his fortunes in the brick business like he did in the lumber business, which brought him millions of dollars. He died in 1914.
Diamond Brick Co. brickyard
View of the stacks of bricks at the plant of the Diamond Brick Company.
Courtesy of the Pittsburg Historical Society.

Diamond Brick

Red stock brick is pale red, red, and dark red, showing the various firing stages. Visible black spots prominent on the surface. Sides are smooth with straight and even edges and sharp corners. Some edges display lighter shades of flashing. Fine grooves are visible on the sides running longitudinal or transverse on the sides and occasional cracks are present. The face is smooth or displays velour texture with curved wire-cut marks. The edges are straight and the short edges are often rounded. On some with velour faces, the edges display a sawtooth edge. The corners are nearly sharp. No brand name or mark was seen on the face. This brick was made by the extruded, stiff-mud process. The brick is hard and compact. Length 8, width 4 1/2, height 2 3/4 inches.

Diamond red brick
Diamond red brick was used in the Hancock School, San Francisco.

Diamond red brick
Diamond red brick in the wall of Hancock School, San Francisco.

Diamond red brick
Diamond red brick in the former Riverview High School, built in 1910, in Antioch.


The Diamond buff bricks at Clawson School could not be observed closely enough for a full description and measurement of the bricks. Colors are yellow, light buff, and salmon with tiny freckles of black iron spots. The surface of the sides and ends are smooth. Some ends tend to show a crackled surface. Edges and corners are sharp, but often chipped.

Diamond buff brick
Three shades of Diamond bricks in the wall of Clawson School, Oakland.

Diamond buff brick
Diamond bricks in the wall of Clawson School, Oakland.

Diamond buff brick
Diamond bricks in the wall of Clawson School, Oakland.

Texturesque red stock brick is dark red and purplish red, mostly uniform in color, with a smooth, but granular (stipled) surface texture. Corners are sharp and edges straight and slightly rounded. Angular grains of cream feldspar up to 1/4 inch across and a few round black iron spots can be seen on the surface. Minor pits and longitudinal grooves may be present on the surface. Faces could not be observed for description but appear to display longitudinal wire-cut marks. This brick was made using the extruded, stiff-mud process. Dimensions are small. Length 7 7/8, width 3 3/4, height 2 1/2 inches.

Diamond Texturesque red brick
Diamond Texturesque red brick in the wall of the Potter Residence, Cherry St., San Francisco.


References

Architect and Engineer, January 1915, p. 28.

Architect and Engineer, May 1915, p. 128.

Architect and Engineer, July 1915, p. 22.

Black Diamond Argus, Booster Edition, Black Diamond, Contra Costa County, CA, 1911.

Federal Census Records 1910.

Huguenin, E., and Castello, W.O., Contra Costa County, California State Mining Bureau, 17th Report of the State Mineralogist, 1920, p. 49.

Hurtado, Jess, Pittsburg Historical Society President, personal communication, 2009.

International New Service, Press Reference Library (Western Edition), Notables of the West, being the portraits and biographies of the progressive men of the West who have helped in the development and history making of this wonderful country, International News Service, New York, v. 2, 1915, p. 540.

Lane, Kay, Pittsburg Historical Society Public Relations Director, personal communication, 2009.

Parent, Traci, Naturalist, East Bay Regional Park District, written communication, 2006.

Polk's Richmond and Martinez City Directory 1914-1915.

Rego, Nilda, Pioneer Lumber King Ran Delta Empire, Valley Times, 5 September 1989.

Young, Kathleen, Ranger, East Bay Regional Park District, written communication, 2004.

Copyright 2009 Dan Mosier

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