California brick

Herbert Alvaro Giddings

Ventura Mill & Lumber Company


The old Ventura brickyard on Ventura Avenue, opened by Thomas and Edward Mitchell in 1882, was sold to Fred Volkam, a brickmaker in Oxnard, for $2,350 in August 1901. One month later, Volkam had sold the brickyard for a quick profit to Herbert Alvaro Giddings, a well-known contractor and builder in Ventura. Giddings was born in Pleasant Valley, Illinois in 1856, to Horace and Hester Giddings. He learned the trade of carpentry from his father. In 1877, he married Nellie Philips, and they had four children. While working in Kansas and Missouri, Giddings also learned to make and lay bricks. These skills were passed on to his sons, Arthur and James. By 1888, the Giddings were residing in Ventura, where Herbert and his sons had built many structures and prominent buildings in Ventura County.

Giddings used the same clay deposit and the same equipment that was left by Thomas Mitchell for making bricks. As a result, the bricks made by Giddings are indistinguishable from Mitchell's bricks. We know from the history of these brickmakers that the bricks made prior to 1901 are Mitchell's and those made after 1901 to about 1917 are Giddings' bricks. The Damon soft-mud machine was used to mold common bricks. The bricks were fired in field kilns that used oil burners. The brickyard operated for only three months out the year.

Ventura Mill and Lumber Co. ad
Advertisement from the Oxnard Courier, February 28, 1903.

In August 1902, Giddings formed the Ventura Mill & Lumber Company to buy and sell lumber, building materials, grain, produce, and merchandise, and to manufacture bricks. The directors were Herbert Giddings, R. H. Teague, R. C. Sudden, D. A. Webster, and F. A. Orton. The capital stock was $50,000, of which $12,700 had been subscribed. This provided an outlet for the sale of Giddings' bricks at their yard at 934 East Front Street.

A few examples of buildings in Ventura that contain the Giddings bricks include the 1902 First Post Office Building at 377 Main Street, 1906 carriage house for the Phoenix Livery Stables at 34 North Palm Street, the side and back walls of the McGuire Building (1906-1910) at 317 East Main Street, and the 1907 Stiles Machine Shop at 33 South Palm Street. The First National Bank of Ventura building at 16 North Oak Street, built in 1904, may have Giddings brick in the inner walls, but they are not exposed. The facade of the building is made of brick from Los Angeles, as is the front facade of the McGuire Building.

The total quantity of brick manufactured by Giddings is unknown. The brickyard ceased making brick at some time before the Ventura Mill & Lumber Company closed about 1917, and the yard site was owned by the Ventura Manufacturing and Implement Company the following year. Giddings brickyard was later operated by the Peoples Lumber Company. Herbert Giddings died on August 30, 1926, at the age of 70 years. His wife Nellie died on January 11, 1935. Son Arthur Giddings died on March 9, 1907 in Ojai at the age of 25 years. Son James Giddings died on December 12, 1938 at the age of 54 years.

Giddings ad
Advertisement from the Oxnard Courier, March 17, 1905.

Giddings Brick

Common Brick

Common brick is orange to orange red, mostly uniform in color. The surface is lightly sand coated and smooth. The edges are irregular and dull. The corners are dull. The sides display fine transverse striations and pits. Some have an irregular lip up to 1/4 inch around the edges of the top face. The top face is pitted and has faint longitudinal strike marks. The bottom face is smooth and even. There were no brand marks on the bricks seen and none are known to exist. The interior clay body has very few clasts of subrounded white quartz and clay, less than 5 percent and up to 1/4 inch across. The pores, which are up to 1/4 inch across, constitute about 5 percent. The brick spalls easily. The interior clay is characteristically lumpy on broken or weathered surfaces. This brick was made between 1901 and 1917 by the soft-mud process using a brick molding machine. Length 8, width 3 3/4, height 2 3/8 inches.

Giddings brick
View of the side of the Giddings brick in the McGuire Building, Ventura.

Giddings brick
View of the side of the Giddings brick in the Stiles Machine Shop, Ventura. Note the fine transverse striations.

Giddings brick interior
View of the interior clay body of the Giddings brick at the Stiles Machine Shop, Ventura.


Aubrey, Lewis E., The Structural and Industrial Materials of California, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 38, 1906, p. 259

Federal Census Records, 1860.

Federal Census Records, 1870.

Federal Census Records, 1880.

Federal Census Records, 1900.

Federal Census Records, 1910.

Federal Census Records, 1920.

Federal Census Records, 1930.

Great Register for Ventura County, 1890.

Oxnard Courier, August 30, 1902.

Oxnard Courier, August 31, 1901.

Oxnard Courier, February 28, 1903.

Oxnard Courier, March 17, 1905.

Oxnard Courier, November 6, 1918.

Oxnard Courier, September 7 1901.

San Buenaventura Conservancy, Home Tours and Histories, Ventura, (accessed 2009).

Ventura County Deeds, 1882.

Ventura County Genealogical Society Archives, Obituaries, (accessed 2010).

Ventura Historic Resources Survey Update, Downtown Specific Plan Area, Appendix D Property Data Table, 2005.

Copyright 2010 Dan Mosier

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