California brick

Fortin Brick Company
Point San Pedro Brick Company


Julia Remillard Fortin and Victor L. Fortin
Julia Remillard Fortin and Victor L. Fortin. Courtesy of Janet Humphrey.

Victor Lazare Fortin was born on October 28, 1845, in the parish of St. Cyprian, County of St. John, Quebec, Canada, to the parents of Vital and Christine Fortin. His father Vital Fortin was a farmer. Victor was educated in the schools at St. Cyprian and the Donoghue's Academy at Napierville, Canada. At age sixteen, he worked as a general clerk in Stottville, Canada, for four years. On June 12, 1863, he married Miss Julie Remillard, a native of Quebec and daughter of Hilaire and Marie Reine Remillard. He owned and ran a general store in Stottville for three years.

In 1868, he came with his wife and two oldest children, Damien E. and Mary B., to California, by way of New York and Panama. They arrived in Oakland on May 14, 1868, accompanied by eight members of the Fortin and Remillard families. Victor immediately went to work for the Remillard Bros., a brick manufacturing and contracting firm in Oakland, and was put in charge of the accounts and estimates for contracts. He became secretary of the Remillard Brick Company and remained with them for 14 years.

Fortin brick ad
Early advertisements from the Oakland Tribune, 1888.

In 1882, Victor started his own brick manufacturing firm known as V. L. Fortin & Co. and, according to the press, he operated a brickyard at Potrero San Pablo, Contra Costa County. However, the press also reported that Remillard had a brickyard at Potrero and the ledgers of the company appear to indicate that they did. It may be that Fortin also had a brickyard at Potrero near the Remillard operation. Further research will be necessary to verify the Potrero brickyards.

Fortin Brick Co. brickyard
View of the Fortin brick plant, at Point San Pedro, c. 1885. Photo courtesy of John E. McNear.

In 1885, Victor moved his brickyard to Point San Pedro (McNear Point), Marin County, and organized a new company called the Point San Pedro Brick Company, when he partnered with his son Damien E., cousin Pierre (Peter) Fortin, and Ven Gregoire. In 1890, this became the Fortin Brick Company when Gregoire left the firm. Offices and yards were set up on the northeast corner of Third and Washington Streets in Oakland and, in 1888, on the south side of Berry Street, between 5th and 6th Streets in San Francisco. At their brick plant at Point San Pedro, they manufacturered common, pressed, and machine brick. They were also engaged in brickwork and plastering contracts, and dealers in lime, lath, nails, cement, plaster hair, sand, fire brick, fire clay, and brick dust. Damien Fortin was the plant foreman and Camille Gregoire was the brick burner.

Fortin brick ad
Fortin Brick Company advertisement. David Snell Collection.

There is no description of the Fortin brick plant, but it can be seen in some of the surviving bricks that the clay was not screened or crushed and a brick press machine was used to make fine pressed brick and ornamental shapes. An extruder and wire-cut machine were used to make wire-cut common brick. The bricks were fired in nine open field kilns burning wood or coal. They employed as many as 140 men during the summer months. In 1893, this plant produced 12,000,000 common and pressed bricks. Their brick was placed on the market in direct competition with the Remillard Brick Company. Two schooners named for Victor's daughters, Agnes and Mary, were used to haul the bricks to Oakland and San Francisco.

Thanks to Barbara Miller, a granddaughter of Victor Fortin and daughter of Octave V. Fortin, we have a partial list of buildings that were constructed of Fortin brick in 1894. These included the Orpheum Theater, Hall of Records Annex, Central Bank, Enquirer Building, Golden West Brewery, Church for Convent of Sacred Heart, Methodist Church, Baptist Church, and two Catholic Churches in Oakland, the Judson Powder Works at Albany, the Judson Powder Works at Point Isabella, the Giant Powder Works at El Sobrante, the Peter Building in San Rafael, and the Escelle Winery in Larkspur. Of these, only the last two mentioned buildings remain standing today.

Peter Building in San Rafael
Peter Building (1894) Fourth and C Streets, San Rafael, made of Fortin pressed brick.

In February, 1896, the Fortin Brick Company was pressed for $86,000 by the creditors which they couldn't pay. J. J. North was appointed assignee of the brick company on a bond of $120,000. By 1897, the Fortin Brick Company had shut down its operations permanently. The brick plant at Point San Pedro was sold to the McNear Brick Company.

Fortin brickyard
View of the Fortin brick plant, c. 1892. Photo courtesy of John E. McNear.

Victor continued to work as a brick contractor, partnering with his sons Octave and Damien Fortin under the name of the Oakland Brick Company, located at 476 Tenth St., Oakland. Damien Fortin left the firm after one year and became a travel agent. Victor and Octave subsequently operated under the name of Fortin & Son at 566 19th St. in Oakland, until Victor passed away on August 14, 1914, at the age of 69. In addition to his two sons, Damien and Octave, he was survived by two daughters, Mary and Agnes Fortin.

Damien Fortin was born in Stottsville, Canada, in 1866. He immigrated with his family to Oakland, California, in 1868, and became naturalized in 1880. In 1889, he married May Hubbard and they had one daughter Adele. He later returned to the construction business and in 1917 moved to Rock Island, Illinois, where he took a position as construction foreman. Early in 1918, he went to work on construction jobs in France and England. What became of Damien after that is unknown.

Octave Fortin was born in California in 1873. In 1900, he married Lillie Balser, and they had two sons, George and Edward. Octave remained in Oakland working as a brick contractor until he passed away in 1951.

These early Fortin bricks are rare. Most of the structures containing these bricks have been destroyed by the 1906 earthquake or razed later for new development projects. Common bricks were found in the brass foundry building still standing at the northwest corner of Jefferson and Third streets in Oakland. It is possible that Fortin common bricks were used in the side and back walls of the Peter Building in San Rafael, but because the bricks are painted, they could not be examined for details.

Fortin Brick

Wire-Cut Brick

Wire-cut brick is orange to orange red, with mottled shades of color. Surface is smooth with faint transverse striations on the sides. Cracks or pits are rare. Transverse, longitudinal, and criss-cross yellow flash patterns are displayed on some sides. Subrounded white feldspar or clay clasts up to 1/4 inch across are rare in the surface and interior clay body. Interior clay body may show lamination structure and spalls easily. Faces show strong longitudinal velour patterns indicating faces were wire-cut. Edges are uneven and ranges from sharp to dull, some displaying a sawtooth edge due to the velour patterns on the faces. Corners are sharp to slightly dull. This brick was made using the extruded, wire-cut, stiff-mud process. Length 7 3/4, width 3 1/2 - 3 3/4, height 2 3/8 inches.

Fortin brick
View of the smooth sides of the Fortin wire-cut brick in the Standard Brass Company building in Oakland.

Fortin brick
View showing part of the face of the Fortin wire-cut brick with its strong longitudinal velour texture made by a wire cutter.

Pressed Brick

Pressed brick is red to dark red, mostly uniform in color. Surface is smooth with minor crackling. No marks on the surface. Interior clay body contains 15 to 20 percent subangular to subrounded clasts ranging up to one inch across. The clasts include white quartz, feldspar, gray shale, red chert, and sandstone in an orange-red clay body. Edges are straight and sharp. Corners are sharp to slightly dull. Faces could not be observed for description. Length 8 1/4, width 3 7/8, height 2 1/2 inches.

Fortin pressed brick
View of the smooth surface of the Fortin pressed brick in the Peter Building, San Rafael.

Fortin pressed brick
View of the interior of Fortin pressed brick after sandblasting removed the smooth surface and exposed the clasts.

Fortin pressed brick
View of Fortin pressed arch brick above a window in the Peter Building.

Fortin pressed brick
View of Fortin circle brick forming the front columns of the Peter Building, San Rafael.


Brick and Clay Record, April, 14, 1896, p. 17.

California Death Index, 1940-1997.

Crawford, J.J., Clay, Bricks, Pottery, Etc., Marin County, California State Mining Bureau 12th Report of the State Mineralogist, p. 382.

Federal Census Records, 1900.

Federal Census Records, 1910.

Federal Census Records, 1920.

Federal Census Records, 1930.

Humphrey, Janet, written communication, 2008.

Lewis Publising Co., Bay of San Francisco, v. 1, 1892, p. 446-448.

McNear, John E., personal communication, 2010.

Miller, Barbara, written communication, 2003.

Oakland City Directories, 1881-1900.

Oakland Enquirer, Fortin Brick Company, 16 December 1895, p. 2.

Oakland Tribune, Illustrated Edition, January 1888.

Oakland Tribune, Pioneer Contractor Summoned By Death, 15 August 1914, p. 11.

San Francisco Chronicle, A Brick Company Is Embarrassed, 15 February 1896, p. 11.

San Francisco Chronicle, Water-Front Fight, 23 June 1892, p. 11.

San Francisco City Directories, 1890-1897.

Snell, David, written communication, 2003.

U.S. Passport Application for Damien E. Fortin, 21 January 1918.

Copyright 2008 Dan Mosier

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