California brick

Gerlach-Richmond Clay Products Company

Gerlach Brick Company

Gerlach Brick Co. Ad


John G. Gerlach
In February 1924, John G. Gerlach (shown right) found and tested the clay on a 10-acre plot on the eastern boundary of Stege (now in western El Cerrito), Contra Costa County, at the site of a former copper smelter owned by William Timlow of New York. Gerlach also had located another property near the Hutchinson rock quarry, which was in eastern El Cerrito, and this was the location for the company's only brickyard. On March 4, 1924, Gerlach organized a new brick firm under the name of the Gerlach-Richmond Clay Products Company, also known as the Gerlach Brick Company. Their articles of incorporation show a capital stock of $150,000, with John G. Gerlach as president, Eliza E. Gerlach as vice-president, Alvin Gerlach as secretary and treasurer, and Clyde L. Queen and P.B. Ellis as directors. The company office was located at 302 Balfour Building, 351 California Street, San Francisco. Their Oakland office was located at Broadway and Waters. The company had planned to produce common, pressed, enamel, and face bricks, as well as roofing tile, hollow tile, building tile, and mantles. Their market targets were Oakland and Berkeley, which were experiencing an unprecedented building growth at the time.

Gerlach Brick Co. Ad Map
Illustrative advertisement showing the location of the Gerlach-Richmond
Clay Products Company's property at Stege. Richmond Independent, 1924.

John G. Gerlach was a native of Wisconsin. In 1888, he entered the clay business when he began working for the Pacific Clay Manufacturing Company in Los Angeles. He had gained additional experience while working for other clay companies in the Los Angeles region, including the Los Angeles Stoneware and Sewer Pipe Company, Douglass Clay Product Company, Garvanza Brick Company, and the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company. He was manager of the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company's plant at Point Richmond for 13 years. He also served as a Richmond City Councilman for six years and served as treasurer of the Richmond Builders' Exchange. His wife's name was Eliza, and they had three sons, Alvin, Leonard, and Joseph. Now he was ready to embark in his own brickmaking venture.

Gerlach Brick Co. Ad
Gerlach-Richmond Clay Products Company shares offer. Richmond Independent, 1924.

On May 22, 1924, the Gerlach Brick Company ordered 24 six-brick maple molds from Wellington Machine Company. On September 22, 1924, the Gerlach Brick Company announced that it would build its brickyard on its property next to the Hutchinson quarry in El Cerrito. On October 2, the new brick plant commenced operations with a production of 30,000 bricks. Gerlach had planned to use motor trucks to deliver bricks to Oakland. No mention was made of where they got their materials for making bricks here, but most likely it was from surficial deposits on the property that overlay the Franciscan rocks. This brickyard manufactured common brick using both a soft mud process as well as a stiff mud brick machine. The size of brick mold was given as 8 3/4 x 4 1/8 x 2 1/2 inches. The plant ran on electricity. The bricks were fired in scove kilns using oil. This plant was planned to be a forerunner of a larger plant that was to be built on the company's Stege property mentioned earlier. Rhodes and Jamieson Company, which was an Oakland building materials supplier, contracted for the first large order of Gerlach bricks. O.W. Rhodes and G.G. Jamieson later became directors in this brick company.

Nothing more is known about this brickyard. In the short time it was in operation, the quantity of bricks made here must have been small. The sample of the Gerlach common brick shown below is believed to have been made at the El Cerrito yard. I have no examples of their wire-cut brick. It is possible that these bricks were used in some of the buildings built in late 1924 and 1925 in Oakland, Berkeley, and elsewhere, but thus far, none have been identified. Apparently, the company did not make any other clay products.

The short life of the Gerlach brickyard, only 10 months, was caused by the unexpected death of John Gerlach, 59 years old, on August 7, 1925. Gerlach had been ill in the six months previously and was reported to be slowly recovering at the Cottage Hospital. In Gerlach's absence, the company hired a new plant superintendent, C.W. Tress. Following Gerlach's death, the company reorganized with new directors, only to dissolve the company and close the brickyard.

Gerlach Brick

The Gerlach soft-mud common brick is orange-red and mostly uniform in color. The surface is struck with a light coating of iron-stained quartz sand. The form is good with dull edges and corners. The surface shows a few rock pebbles and some pits. The top face is rough and pitted with longitudinal strike marks. The bottom face contains a 1/8 inch deep rectangular frog that is 1 7/8 inches wide. In the bottom of the frog are raised block letters of the name GERLACH, though the bat sample shown displays only the first four letters. The interior is a porous orange-red sandy clay containing about 5 percent pebbles ranging up to 1/2 inch across. The pebbles are subrounded quartz, sandstone, and shale. This brick was made using the soft-mud process formed in six-brick molds. The length of the sample is unknown, but from the given brick mold, it was probably about 8 1/4 inches, allowing for shrinkage. Length ?, width 3 3/4, height 2 1/4 inches.

Marked face of a Gerlach brick
Part of the marked face of the Gerlach common brick.

side view of the Gerlach brick
View of the side of the Gerlach common brick.

top face of the Gerlach brick
View of the rough top face of the Gerlach common brick.

interior clay body of the Gerlach brick
View of the interior clay body of the Gerlach common brick.


Brick Factory To Start Here, Richmond Independent, February 26, 1924.

Clay Products Company Formed, Richmond Independent, March 3, 1924.

Clay Products Plant For Stege, Cal., Brick and Clay Record, 1924, v. 64, no. 7, p. 518.

Clay-Worker, 1925, v. 84, p. 646.

Complete Gerlach Brick Co. Plant, Brick and Clay Record, 1924, v. 65, no. 8, p. 554.

Davis, Fenelon F., and Goldman, Harold B., Mines and Mineral Resources of Contra Costa County, California, California State Mining Bureau, California Journal of Mines and Geology, v. 54, no. 4, 1958, p. 501-583.

Death Claims John J.[sic] Gerlach, Former City Councilman, Richmond Independent, August 7, 1925.

Former Richmond Councilman Dies, Oakland Tribune, August 9, 1925.

Gerlach Brick Co. Reorganizes, Brick and Clay Record, 1925, v. 67, no. 7, p. 492.

Gerlach Brick Co. To Build Plant In El Cerrito, El Cerrito Journal, September 22, 1924.

Gerlach Brick Company to Reopen, Clay-Worker, 1925, v. 83, p. 165.

Gerlach Brick Plant Opened, Richmond Independent, October 3, 1924.

Gerlach Recovering, Oakland Tribune, December 5, 1924.

Hausler, Donald, Emeryville Historical Society, written communications, 2014.

Laizure, C. McK., Contra Costa County, California State Mining Bureau Report 23, no. 1, January 1927, p. 2-31.

Look at this "Opportunity Map," Richmond Independent, March 18, 1924.

New Equipment Ordered, Brick and Clay Record, 1924, v. 64, no. 10, p. 746.

New Manager at El Cerrito, Clay-Worker, 1925, v. 84, p. 634.

Plant, El Cerrito, Calif., Pacific Factory, November 1924, p. 57.

Richmond, Oakland Tribune, February 27, 1924.

Richmond To Have New Brick and Tile Plant, Oakland Tribune, March 16, 1924.

Wellington Machine Company ledgers, 1924, copied by Josh Higgins, 2013.

Copyright 2014 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at