California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Higgins Brick and Tile Company, Santa Monica

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 Santa Monica yard is the subject of this page. Formerly owned by the Pacific Brick Company, Mamie Higgins purchased the property, consisting of six lots in block 200 of Villa Farms, on March 28, 1944. This was about 23 acres on the northeast corner of Colorado Avenue and 26th Street. The yard office address was 2600 Colorado Avenue, Santa Monica.

Higgins clay pit and plant.
View of Higgins clay pit and plant, Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

The clay pit was about 1,200 feet by 900 feet, covering about 11 acres, and was worked to a depth of 50 feet. Here flat-lying sandy brown clay was mined with only a couple feet of overburden that had to be removed. The pit was first opened by the Western Brick Company in 1922. From about 1937 to 1940, the Pacific Brick Company mined the clay pit. When Higgins took over in 1944, a Caterpillar carryall was used to convey the clay to the conveyor belt for a 300-foot haul up to the plant.

Higgins clay pit and plant.
View of the clay conveyor at the rear of Higgins plant, Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Higgins clay pit and plant.
View of Higgins brick plant, Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

The plant was equipped with a dry-pan grinder, pug mill, an auger extruding machine, and a reel wire-cutter. Bricks were sun dried and fired in large field kilns. In 1952, plant capacity was 100,000 brick per day with 30 workers. Walter Higgins was the plant manager. This yard operated only during the dry season.

Higgins clay pit and plant.
View of the dry pan grinder in the Higgins brick plant, Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Higgins clay pit and plant.
View of the reel wire-cutter in the Higgins brick plant, Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Higgins clay pit and plant.
View of one of the field kilns being built at the Higgins
brickyard, Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Higgins clay pit and plant.
View of a field kiln at the Higgins brickyard, Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Higgins clay pit and plant.
View showing five field kilns at the Higgins brickyard, Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Red common and oversized bricks, in both smooth and rug textures, and hollow tile were produced at the Santa Monica yard. These bricks were shipped by Higgins' own fleet of trucks throughout the Los Angeles region. Examples of the Higgins oversized rug brick from a building built in 1967 for Gillette's Paper Mate Company are shown below. Bricks from this yard were used at UCLA, Sawtelle Veterans' Hospital, St. John's Hospital, Santa Monica recreation centers, and many other businesses and homes. In 1970, when Higgins was awarded the huge contract for supplying bricks for the $34 million Market Street Reconstruction Project in San Francisco, some of the first bricks made for that project came from the Santa Monica plant. Every brick was required to be stamped, so a bronze name roller was used to imprint "HIGGINS" on one side of each brick.

Higgins clay pit and plant.
View of crew dehacking a field kiln of hollow tile at the Higgins
brickyard, Santa Monica, 1957. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Higgins clay pit and plant.
View of crew putting finished brick on pallets at the Higgins brickyard, Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Higgins clay pit and plant.
View of Higgins trucks used to deliver finished brick. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

In the early 1950s, the Higgins Building Materials, Inc., was organized with Mrs. Mamie Higgins as president, Walter T. Higgins as vice president, James Robert Higgins, Jr., as vice president, and Mrs. Winifred Loughborough as secretary and treasurer. An office and building supply yard was located at 2600 Colorado Avenue, or 1617 26th Street. In 1968, with nearly depleted clay, Higgins announced that the brickyard was closing. By 1972, Higgins had shut down the brickyard and its building material yard. The Santa Monica yard made over 550 million bricks in its 26 years of operation. The cities of Santa Monica and Beverly Hills used the clay pit for landfill until the surface was restored for development. The Higgins family still owns the Santa Monica property and has been leasing it to businesses.

Higgins clay pit and plant.
View of the office of Higgins Building Materials Yard, Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Higgins clay pit and plant.
View of the Higgins Building Materials Yard, Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

See the movies of the Santa Monica brickyard uploaded by Josh Higgins on YouTube.com at the following links:

Higgins Brick Santa Monica Plant Purchase

Higgins Brick Santa Monica Brick Plant

Higgins Brick Company Santa Monica Plant and Building Material Yard on 26th and Colorado

Higgins Brick Santa Monica Plant in Pictures and Film

Higgins Brick

Oversized Rug Brick

Higgins oversized rug brick is orange-red and uniform in color. The form is excellent with straight sharp edges and dull corners. The short edges are rounded. The wire-cut faces display curved grooves. One side and one end of the brick display transverse rug texture. The reverse sides are smooth. Scores for the rug texture are irregularly spaced from 1/16 to 3/16 inch apart; most are in pairs that are 1/16 inch apart. The scores are bordered by 3/8 inch margins along the short edges. There are about 59 scores on the side and 11 scores on the end. On the surface of the brick are visible subangular white quartz or granite. These constitute about 3 percent of the sandy clay body and range up to 1/4 inch in diameter. This brick was made using the stiff-mud process. Length 15 3/8, width 3 1/8, height 5 3/8 inches.

View of the sides of the Higgins oversized rug brick.
View of the sides of the Higgins oversized rug brick.

View of the side of the Higgins oversized rug brick.
View of the side of the Higgins oversized rug brick.

View of a rounded edge of the Higgins oversized rug brick.
View of a rounded edge of the Higgins oversized rug brick.

Close-up view of the surface of the Higgins oversized rug 
brick showing white quartz exposed in the rug texture.
Close-up view of the surface of the Higgins oversized rug
brick showing white quartz exposed in the rug texture.

References

City of Santa Monica, Districting Maps, Planning Department, May 1970.

Federal Census Records, 1910.

Federal Census Records, 1920.

Federal Census Records, 1930.

Federal Census Records, 1940.

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.

Hogan, Pat, Brick Yard Closes In Style, Santa Monica Evening Outlook, January 4, 1968.

Los Angeles County Land Records, Pacific Brick Co. to Mamie Higgins, James, Jr., Higgins, Walter Higgins, and Winifred Loughborough, Grant Deed, March 28, 1944, p. 286-287.

Santa Monica City Directory, 1947-1948.

Santa Monica City Directory, 1952-1953.

Santa Monica City Directory, 1960-1961.

State of California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Modified Cleanup and Abatement Order No. R4-2008-0034, File No. 97-176, 2010.

U.S. Geological Survey, Beverly Hills, 7.5 Minute Quadrangle Map, 1950.

Copyright 2015 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.