California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Higgins Brick and Tile Company, Monterey Park

History


Higgins sign.
Higgins sign. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

James Robert Higgins (1879-1937) was born in Ford County, Illinois. There he learned the trade of brickmaking at a local brickyard. In 1905, he married Mamie West and in 1909, they moved to Los Angeles, California, where three children were born, James Robert Jr., Walter Taft, and Winifred.

In 1910, Robert worked as a brickmaker at the K & K brickyard in Los Angeles. By 1920, he was operating a chicken farm. In 1927, he re-entered the brick business when he opened his first brickyard at 2217 West 174th Street in Gardena (now Torrance) in Los Angeles County. When Robert died in 1937, his wife Mamie became president of the company and manager of the brickyards. Her sons, James and Walter, became vice-presidents and foremen, and daughter Winifred became the secretary-treasurer. In 1944, they reopened the Pacific Brick Company plant at Santa Monica and opened a new yard at Monterey Park in 1946. About 1958, they purchased over 100 acres of clay land at 15920 Pomona Rincon Road in Chino Hills, San Bernardino County. A modern brick plant was built and opened there in 1963. These plants had a total capacity of approximately 60 million common brick equivalent annually. Four generations of the Higgins family operated these brickyards until the closing of the last plant at Chino Hills in 2011.

The Higgins Monterey Park yard is the subject of this page. Mamie Higgins purchased the property at 4700 Ramona Boulevard (now Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department) in 1946 from the Tapper Brick Company, which was the former owner. This property was about 40 acres on bedded blue-gray clay, silt, and shale of the Upper Miocene Puente Formation. The quarry covering about 10 acres was 500 yards long, 300 yards wide, and 20 feet in height. In 1954, the clay was mined by Caterpillar D6 plow and disc. The material was hauled by Caterpillar carryalls about 50 yards to the hopper-loading conveyor belt for a 15-foot haul to the mill.

Aerial view of Higgins brickyard, Monterey Park.
Aerial view of the Higgins brickyard and I-10, Monterey Park, looking north. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

The mill contained a dry-pan crusher, screen, pug-mill, an auger extruding machine, and a reel wire-cutter. Barium carbonate was added to control efflorescense. The cut forms were stacked on pallets for sun drying for three weeks before being fired in field kilns for ten days. A hydraulic elevator was used to lower the dried bricks from the upper tier to the lower tier for firing. According to Ronald Higgins, bricks from this yard were used in mainly in chimneys, sewers, and patios. Both standard and commercial sizes were made. Higgins improved the quality of the commercial brick, which was made by the Tapper Brick Company previously at this yard. Average production in 1954 was 80,000 common brick per day and 60,000 commercial bricks per day.

View of Higgins brickyard, Monterey Park.
View of the Higgins brickyard, Monterey Park. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

The brickyard employed 25 during the dry months, and 8 to 10 during the wet months, because of the difficulty of drying bricks. In 1953, the plant was expanded about 25 percent due to increasing demands. To 1973, nearly one billion bricks were produced here. The brickyard was closed, according to Ronald Higgins, because of the adjacent freeway construction. The brickyard lost the east side (upper tier) of its yard with the construction of the Long Beach Freeway (I-710) during the 1960s.

View of Higgins clay mine, Monterey Park.
View of the Higgins clay mine, Monterey Park. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

View of the Caterpiller carryall.
View of the Caterpiller carryall. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

View of the Higgins two tiered drying yards, Monterey Park.
View of the Higgins two tiered drying yards, Monterey Park. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

View of the Higgins field kilns on the lower level, Monterey Park.
View of the Higgins field kilns on the lower level, Monterey Park. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

View of the Higgins field kilns on the lower level, Monterey Park.
View of the Higgins field kilns on the lower level, Monterey Park. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

View of the Higgins field kilns on the lower level, Monterey Park.
View of the Higgins field kilns on the lower level, Monterey Park. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

View of the Higgins employees, Monterey Park.
View of the Higgins employees, Monterey Park. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

View of the Higgins truck, Monterey Park.
View of the Higgins truck, Monterey Park. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

See the movie of the Monterey Park brickyard uploaded by Josh Higgins on YouTube.com at the following links:

Higgins Brickyard Monterey Park

Higgins Brick

Commercial Rug Brick

Higgins commercial rug brick is orange-red and uniform in color. The form is excellent with straight sharp top and bottom edges and rounded short edges at the ends. The wire-cut faces display moderate angled curved grooves. All sides of the brick display transverse fine, evenly spaced, rug texture. The scores are 1/16 inch apart and there are 17 scores per inch. The scores are bordered by 3/8 inch or less smooth margins along the short edges. The interior of the brick is composed of a fine sugary compact clay. When present, there is about 2 percent subangular yellow shale as much as 3/8 inch in diameter. This brick was made using the stiff-mud process. Length 9 3/4, width 2 7/8 - 3, height 3 1/4 inches.

View of the fine rug texture of the Higgins commercial rug brick.
View of the fine rug texture on the side of the Higgins commercial rug brick.

View of the side of the Higgins commercial rug brick.
View of the fine rug texture on the end of the Higgins commercial rug brick.

View of the wire-cut face of the Higgins commercial rug brick.
View of the wire-cut face of the Higgins commercial rug brick.

Interior view of the Higgins commercial rug 
brick showing yellow shale clasts.
Interior view of the Higgins commercial rug brick showing yellow shale clasts.

References

Federal Census Records, 1910.

Federal Census Records, 1920.

Federal Census Records, 1930.

Gay, T.E., and Hoffman, S.R., Mines and Mineral Resources of Los Angeles County, California, California State Mining Bureau, California Journal of Mines and Geology, v. 50, no. 3-4, 1954, p. 467-709.

Higgins, Josh, written and personal communications, 2012-2014.

Higgins, Ronald, personal communications, 2014.

Copyright 2017 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.