California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Higgins Brick and Tile Company, Torrance

Advertisement from the Torrance Herald, April 27, 1958.
Advertisement from the Torrance Herald, April 27, 1958.

History

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.

Mrs. Mamie Higgins, president and manager of Higgins Brick and Tile Company.
Mrs. Mamie Higgins, president and manager of Higgins
Brick and Tile Company. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Mrs. Mamie Higgins, president and manager of Higgins Brick and Tile Company.
Walter Higgins, vice-president and foreman of Higgins
Brick and Tile Company. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

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 (now Artesia Blvd.) at the southwest corner with Arlington (now Van Ness Ave.) at Gardena (later 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 Loughborough became the secretary-treasurer.

Higgins Brick and Tile Company brickyard in Torrance looking
towards southwest.
Higgins Brick and Tile Company brickyard in Torrance looking southeast.
174th Street is in the lower left and the clay pit is in the upper right.
Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Higgins Brick and Tile Company brickyard in Torrance looking 
towards northwest. From the Torrance Herald, April 27, 1958.
Higgins Brick and Tile Company brickyard in Torrance looking
northeast. 174th Street cuts diagonally across the upper center
of the photo, brick plant is in the center and the clay pit is
at the bottom. From the Torrance Herald, April 27, 1958.

Robert Higgins established his new brickyard on 22 acres of clay land, which contained brown silty alluvium that was red-firing. The large pit on the western part of the property was mined to a depth of 40 feet by a pneumatic-tired Caterpillar 60 carry-all tractor-scraper. The material was dumped through a trap into a side-dump cart, which was pulled by cable out of the pit on rails 100 yards to the plant. By 1952, the cart was replaced by a 20-inch belt conveyor. The plant contained a dry pan crusher, vibrating screens, combined pug-mill, de-airing chamber, and a Special Fate-Root-Heath auger extruding machine with a side-cut lubricating brick die, 8 3/4 inches long, 4 inches corners, and 3 15/16 center. Wire-cut common bricks, ruffle textured brick, perforated brick, 12-inch hollow tiles, and 6-inch floor tiles were made. Hollow tile was a three-cored 12- by 4-inch block. The products were sun dried and fired for 10 to 15 days in field kilns equipped with gas burners. By 1952, this plant was producing 100,000 bricks per day. In 1958, the yard averaged about 16 million bricks per year.

Clay pit of the Higgins Brick and Tile Company in Torrance.
Clay pit of the Higgins Brick and Tile Company
in Torrance. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Caterpillar 60 tractor-scraper in the clay pit of the Higgins Brick and Tile Company.
Caterpillar 60 tractor-scraper in the clay pit of the Higgins
Brick and Tile Company. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Side-dump clay cart.
Side-dump clay cart. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Clay cart being pulled by cable from the clay pit.
Clay cart being pulled by cable from the clay pit. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Crushing plant of the Higgins Brick and Tile Company in Torrance.
Crushing plant of the Higgins Brick and Tile Company
in Torrance. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Flywheel wire-cutter inside the plant.
Flywheel wire-cutter inside the plant. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Cut brick on the conveyor.
Cut brick on the conveyor. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Off loading brick onto pallets.
Off loading brick onto pallets. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Taking pallet of brick to the drying yard.
Taking pallet of brick to the drying yard. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Unloading pallet of brick at the drying yard.
Unloading pallet of brick at the drying yard. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Setting brick in the field kiln.
Setting brick in the field kiln. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Setting brick in the field kiln.
Setting brick in the field kiln. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Burning gas in the field kiln.
Burning gas in the field kiln. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Kiln burner at the field kiln.
Kiln burner tending the field kiln. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

View of the field kiln at Higgins brickyard in Torrance.
View of the field kiln at Higgins brickyard in Torrance. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

Unloading finished brick from the field kiln.
Unloading finished brick from the field kiln unto Higgins truck. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

The Higgins yard operated 7 to 8 months per year with about 50 workers. In 1938, a new office building and patio was built at the yard. This building was an attractive showroom of all of their products. The 30 x 50 feet patio displayed many types of brick and tile and illustrated many attractive designs of brick and tile work. The patio was furnished with bright colored garden umbrellas and tables along with a large barbecue pit and other cooking facilities. As a unique method of advertising its products while supporting civic activities, the Higgins Company allowed the community to use the building and patio for free. Nearly every organization in town held their meetings and entertainments at Higgins Brickyard. From 1949 to 1959, Albert V. Larson was the office manager. Raymond C. Broidy was assistant manager.

View of the original Higgins Brick and Tile Company office at the Torrance brickyard.
View of the original Higgins Brick and Tile Company office
at the Torrance brickyard. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

View of the original Higgins Brick and Tile Company office at the Torrance brickyard.
View of the original Higgins Brick and Tile Company office
at the Torrance brickyard. Photo courtesy of Josh Higgins.

View of the new Higgins Brick and Tile Company office at the Torrance brickyard.
View of the new Higgins Brick and Tile Company office at the
Torrance brickyard. From the Torrance Herald, April 27, 1958.

View of the interior of the new Higgins Brick and Tile Company office at the Torrance brickyard.
View of the interior of the new Higgins Brick and Tile Company office
at the Torrance brickyard. From the Torrance Herald, April 27, 1958.

Higgins bricks from the Torrance yard were consumed mostly by buildings, chimneys, patios, and sewers in the South Bay area, though some were shipped throughout the Southern California region. Some of the larger projects using Higgins bricks include the Village Del Amo Shopping Center in Torrance, the Tishman Building on Wilshire, and the State Building at the Civic Center in Los Angeles. Higgins advertised the quality, strength, character, and lasting beauty of their brick. Their advertisements also helped to promote Torrance as a great place to live, work, and play. They were proud to have played a part in the growth of Torrance.

Higgins Brick and Tile Company advertisement.
Higgins Brick and Tile Company advertisement. From the Torrance Herald, April 27, 1958.

Higgins Brick and Tile Company advertisement.
Higgins Brick and Tile Company shop destroyed by explosion and fire. From the Torrance Herald, January 30, 1958.

On January 29, 1958, an explosion and fire leveled the shops at the brickyard causing over $15,000 in damage. Exploding oxygen cylinders, oil drums, and a gas pump destroyed the 35- by 65-foot wood and tin building and all of its contents, including a fork lift, wheels, tires, parts, welding equipment, and sacks of cement. The brickyard continued to operate until it closed in 1967, when the clay pit was depleted. The company office remained in Torrance for another decade before it was moved to 1845 South Elena Avenue in Redondo Beach in the late 1970s. The Torrance yard had produced over one billion bricks in its 40 years of operation. The brickyard site is now occupied by a strip mall and residential units.

Higgins Brick and Tile Company advertisement.
Last advertisement by the Higgins Brick and Tile Company.
From the Torrance Herald, February 14, 1960.

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

Higgins Brick Torrance Gardena Brick Plant

Higgins Brick 1927-1967 How to Make Brick Gardena Torrance California

Higgins Bricks

Common Wire-cut Brick

Common wire-cut brick is orange-red and has a smooth surface. The long edges are nearly sharp. The short edges are rounded smooth. The corners are dull. The faces display strong curved wire-cut grooves, pits, and white shale clasts. White shale is subangular to subrounded, less than 1/4 inch in diameter, and form about 3 percent of the clay body. These shales are derived from the underlying Monterey Formation on the property and are diagnostic features for this brick. The sides are smooth and display faint transverse striations. This brick was made using the stiff-mud extrusion process. Length 8, width 3 3/4, height 2 1/2 inches.

View of the face and side of the Higgins common wire-cut brick.
View of the face and side of the Higgins common wire-cut brick.

Close-up view of the face of the Higgins common wire-cut brick showing the white shale clasts 
exposed on the surface. These shale clasts are diagnostic features of bricks made at the Torrance yard.
Close-up view of the face of the Higgins common wire-cut brick
showing the white shale clasts exposed on the surface. These shale
clasts are diagnostic features of bricks made at the Torrance yard.

Ruffled Brick

Ruffled brick has a ruffled texture on the longer sides with the ruffles in the transverse direction. Numerous longitudinal grooves are imprinted on the ruffles. White shale clasts, up to 1/4 inch in diameter, are exposed on the surface. The ends are pitted and display curved or high-angled wire-cut grooves as well as white shale clasts. The shale clasts are subangular and constitute about 3 percent of the clay body. This brick was made using the stiff-mud extrusion process. No measurements are available, but the brick appears to be Roman size.

View of the sides of the Higgins ruffled brick. Note the wire-cut ends.
View of the sides of the Higgins ruffled brick. Note the wire-cut ends.

Close-up view of the ruffled texture of the Higgins ruffled brick. Note the diagnostic white shale clasts on the surface.
Close-up view of the ruffled texture of the Higgins ruffled
brick. Note the diagnostic white shale clasts on the surface.

Perforated Common Wire-Cut Brick

Perforated common wire-cut brick is orange-red and has a smooth surface. One long side is smooth, while the back long side has four deep transverse grooves evenly spaced. The face has three small round perforations with wire-cut marks. No measurements are available.

View of the Higgins perforated common wire-cut brick.
View of the Higgins perforated common wire-cut brick.

Split Paver

Split paver is orange red with a smooth surface. Tiny pieces of white shale may be exposed on the surface. The longer edges are rounded smooth, while the ends are sharp, indicating wire-cut ends. The ends displays more pits and white shale clasts up to 1/4 inch in diameter. Length 8, width 3 3/4, height 1 inches.

View of the face of the Higgins split paver.
View of the face of the Higgins split paver.

View of the end of the Higgins split paver.
View of the end of the Higgins split paver.

Hollow Tile

Hollow tile has a smooth orange-red surface. The larger face contains evenly spaced 11 grooves that are 3/8-inch wide. The 12 ridges are 5/8-inch wide. On one of the marginal ridges is impressed the company name HIGGINS BRICK & TILE in recessed block letters that spans 8 7/8 inches and stand 3/8 inch in height. The name appears in different positions and are sometimes truncated at the ends, indicating a branding roller used to impressed the name on the clay column. The ends are wire-cut and display three rectangular partitions that are 1 by 3 inches. This example has a 2-inch height. Hollow tile of 4-inch heights were also made. The hollow tile was made using the stiff-mud extrusion process. Length 12 3/4, width 12, height 2 inches.

View of the marked side of the Higgins hollow tile block.
View of the marked side of the Higgins hollow tile block.

View of the end of the Higgins hollow tile block showing three hollow partitions.
View of the end of the Higgins hollow tile block showing three hollow partitions.

Floor Tile

Floor tile is orange red and has a smooth surface. Faint longitudinal grooves can be seen on some surfaces as well as conveyor belt imprints. Many of the tiles show worn spots in the center that is exposing the lighter colored interior clay body. Two sides of the tile are rounded smooth, while the other two sides are sharp and often chipped. This indicates that the tile was extruded and wire-cut on the sharper ends. The back and sides of the tile could not be observed. Length 4, width 4, height ? inches.

View of the Higgins square floor tiles.
View of the Higgins square floor tiles.

View of the Higgins square floor tile.
View of the Higgins square floor tile.

References

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.

Higgins Brick 1927-1967 How to Make Brick Gardena Torrance California, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdYc-UFh0M4 (accessed March 24, 2012).

Higgins Brick Torrance Gardena Brick Plant, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVGejdlwF80 (accessed March 24, 2012).

Rapp, John S., Mines and Mineral Producers Active in California During 1978, California Division of Mines and Geology Special Publication 53, 1979.

Symons, Henry H., California Mineral Production and Directory of Mineral Producers For 1930, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 105, 1931, 231 p.

Torrance City Directory, 1936.

Torrance City Directory, 1941.

Torrance City Directory, 1949.

Torrance City Directory, 1956.

Torrance City Directory, 1959.

Torrance City Directory, 1975.

Torrance Herald, Brick Enjoying New Popularity With Builders, February 14, 1960.

Torrance Herald, Brick Firm Serves 760 At Barbecue, June 16, 1938.

Torrance Herald, Explosions Rock Brick Plant, January 30, 1958.

Torrance Herald, February 14, 1960.

Torrance Herald, Higgins Brick For Character, Strength and Lasting Beauty, April 27, 1958.

Torrance Herald, Higgins Brick Major Supplier To Contractors, April 27, 1958.

Wellington Machine Company ledgers, 1927, copied by Josh Higgins, 2013.

Copyright 2014 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.