California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Remillard Brick Company, Greenbrae Yard

History


In 1861, three brothers from Saint-Valentin, near Montreal, Canada, came to Oakland, Alameda County, California, to establish a brickyard. They were Pierre (Peter) Nicolas, Hilaire, and Edouard (Edward) Remillard. Their firm was named Remillard and Brothers, and they opened an office and yard at Clay and 2nd streets, Oakland, and a brick plant in nearby Brooklyn. In 1879, the firm incorporated to become the Remillard Brick Company. Peter N. Remillard was president, Philip Hilaire Remillard was vice-president, and P.H. Lamoureux was secretary.

Remillard Greenbrae brickyard
View of the Remillard Greenbrae yard, with Mount Tamalpais in the background. From Brick and Clay Record, 1912.


When the clay deposit at Brooklyn was exhausted in 1872, Peter Remillard found a new clay deposit at Santa Venetia, near San Rafael, Marin County, California. In 1874, he purchased 75 acres of land and erected field kilns. This became known as the San Rafael or Santa Venetia yard, which operated until about 1885, when it closed. In 1890, Remillard found a new clay deposit at Greenbrae near San Quentin Point. Remillard then purchased 150 acres of land from Mary Tunstead, widow of John Ross, and part of the Punta de Quentin property from David Porter. In 1891, the Remillard Brick Company acquired the property and opened the Greenbrae yard. Building of the plant and kilns cost $50,000 to $60,000. Sam Simard was the superintendent of the yard.

Remillard Greenbrae clay pit

The clay pit was located behind the plant. Initially, surficial material was used and this was full of pebbles that was commonly seen in their early common brick. Later, the company mined the shale on the hill behind the plant and produced better quality bricks. The shale required crushing and screening to the right size. Common bricks were formed using wooden molds. Pressed bricks were made using a brick press. After the bricks were air-dried, they were stacked in the kiln for firing. Remillard built a 16-compartment continuous Hoffman kiln, which still stands today. This kiln had 14 arched openings on the sides and the smoke was ventilated out a tall brick chimney. The fuel was coal. They employed 100 workers and produced 10 to 12 million bricks per year. A dock for shipping the bricks by schooners was built on the bay shore. Schooners, named after the Remillard daughters, carried the bricks to Oakland and San Francisco.

The bricks were used in most of the prominent buildings built in San Francisco and Oakland from 1891 to 1915. Examples can be seen at Ghiradelli Square and St. Francis, San Francisco, Sonoma Development Center (formerly Sonoma State Hospital) in Glen Ellen, and the earlier bricks can be seen at the Remillard Greenbrae yard kiln and chimney. Remillard during this period nearly had a monopoly on bricks. By 1904, the demand for brick had decreased to the point where Remillard temporarily shut down the Greenbrae yard. But it was started up after the 1906 earthquake increased the demand for bricks again. Production continued at a declining rate until the yard closed permanently in 1915.

In 1978, the Greenbrae yard, with its Hoffman kiln and tall brick chimney, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to the early preservation efforts of Countess Lillian Remillard Dandini. She wanted to preserve the Greenbrae yard as a monument to her father, Pierre N. Remillard. In the late 1980s, Ray Kuratek and his firm, Intermark Interests, transformed the brick kiln into a French restaurant.

Remillard Greenbrae kiln
Remillard's Hoffman continuous kiln, Greenbrae yard.


Remillard Greenbrae brickyard chimney
Brick chimney at Remillard's Greenbrae yard.


Remillard Brick


Common brick is orange-red to pale red to reddish brown, with visible white, red, and black clasts on the surface, with abundant holes and pits. Better quality brick showed little or no clasts. The surface is rough and gritty, with a coating of sand composed of orange-stained subrounded quartz, subrounded cream feldspar, and black iron oxide. Edges are irregular and dull. Corners are dull or broken. Some show prominent lip around top edges. Some display transverse mold striations on sides. Interior clay body consists of 10 to 30 percent subrounded white quartz, fine and coarse green and red sandstone, red siltstone, and rare subrounded black basalt, all less than 3/4 inch in diameter, in a porous, orange-red sandy clay body. This brick was made using the hand-molded, sand-struck, soft-mud process. A range of sizes was noted. Length 8 1/4 - 8 3/4, width 3 7/8 - 4 1/4, height 2 1/2 - 2 3/8 inches. Bricks on the chimney flue were as thin as 2 inches.

Remillard Greenbrae common brick
Remillard brick in the wall of the Hoffman kiln, Greenbrae yard.
The crude bricks are probably from the original field kilns.


Remillard Greenbrae common brick
Remillard brick in the wall of the Hoffman kiln, Greenbrae
yard, showing examples of better quality bricks.


View of the interior clay body of the Remillard Greenbrae common brick
View of the interior clay body of the Remillard brick.


Microscopic view of the interior clay body of the Remillard brick (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).
Microscopic view of the interior clay body of the
Remillard brick (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).


References

Aubrey, Lewis E., The Structural and Industrial Materials of California, California Mining Bureau Bulletin 38, 1906, p. 242.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 26, no. 1, 1907, p. 26.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 41, no. 4, 1912, p. 130-131.

Crawford, J.J., Structural Materials, California State Mining Bureau 12th Annual Report of the State Mineralogist, 1894, p. 379-405.

Larkspur Heritage Committee, Larkspur Past and Present, A History and Walking Guide, 1991.

Lamoureux, Michel, written communication, 2017.

Marin County Deed Book L, Indenture Joseph Ford to P.N. Remillard, June 16, 1874, p. 631.

Oakland Tribune, 1887-1906.

Oakland Tribune, Alameda County, The Oakland Tribune, Oakland, 1898.

San Francisco Magazine, Remillard's Romantic Dining In An Old Brick Kiln, May 1990, P. 55-56.

Sausalito News, Green Brae, October 6, 1893.

Sausalito News, Patent Brick Works, November 14, 1890.

Watts, William L., Marin County, California State Mining Bureau 11th Report of the State Mineralogist, 1893, p. 249-254.

Wood, M.W., History of Alameda County, California, Oakland, 1883.

Copyright 2004 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.