California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Robert M. Hubbard

Sweetwater Brick Company

History


A brickmaker from New Hampshire arrived in San Diego, California, in 1889, and established a brickyard at 1428 E Street, between 5th and 6th avenues. His name was Robert M. Hubbard, whose family included a wife, Elvira, two sons, Horace and Frank, and a daughter, Roberta. This new brickyard started up just as the great building boom waned in San Diego and many of the brickmakers were closing their yards. But Hubbard was optimistic about the future of San Diego.

In 1889, Hubbard named his brickyard the Sweetwater Brick Company, and it was operated with the help of his two sons. Surface material from the property was used. Nothing is known about this early brickyard, but it very likely employed the soft-mud process using wooden molds to form bricks and the bricks were fired in field kilns. Red common bricks were made and consumed locally in the city.

By 1895, probably because of mined out clay, Hubbard moved his brickyard to a new location at Nutmeg Street and Horton Avenue, near his residence. His office was located at the southeast corner of C Street and 4th Avenue in San Diego. By this time, the Sweetwater name was replaced by just "Hubbard's Brickyard." Clay was supplemented from the deposits in Rose Canyon. At this new yard, the bricks were molded in a soft-brick machine with a capacity of 20,000 bricks per day. The plant was equipped with a gasoline engine. The bricks were fired in field kilns using crude oil.

Hubbard operated the brickyard until 1916, when San Diego had five other brick manufacturers in operation. Stiff competition during his last seven years of operation probably drove Hubbard into retirement. He died in 1937 at his residence on Nutmeg Street at the age of 82 years. His wife Elvira died in 1943, also at the age of 82 years. His sons Horace went to work for the railway and Frank, a hotel. Horace died in Los Angeles in 1951 at the age of 63 years, Frank in Michigan in 1984 at the age of 95 years. Both sites of Hubbard's brickyards have been completely erased by modern developments.

Hubbard marked his bricks with an "H". I believe that this may be Hubbard's brick based on the following pieces of evidence. A couple of "H" bricks were donated to my archives by James Freedner, who found them in the foundation of a store building that was demolished in 2009 on the northwest corner of Broadway and Ninth Avenue in San Diego. This building was built between 1906 and 1916, and had an address of 846 Broadway. For many decades, it was the tailor shop of Joseph Cascio. The last occupant was Junior Market and Deli, before the site was demolished for a parking lot. Another "H" brick was reported by Carol Serr from a mortuary site at Cedar Street and 6th Avenue in San Diego, where the brick was found among artifacts dating from 1890 to 1920. A third "H" brick was reported by George L. Kennedy from the southwest corner of Kettner Boulevard and Beech Street in San Diego, among artifacts dating from 1890 through the 1920s. The latter brick shows an "H" with a centered cross-bar as opposed to an offset cross-bar in the previous examples, indicating a slight change in the molding equipment. These findings fit the period of when Hubbard was manufacturing his bricks. Hubbard bricks can be found in the brick structures that were built between 1889 and 1916 in the San Diego area. The Hubbard bricks described below are probably from his second brickyard, which operated from 1895 to 1916.

Hubbard Brick

Hubbard common brick is dark orange-red, mostly uniform in color. The surface is sand-struck with grains of quartz, feldspar, and mica. The mica sparkles readily in the sunlight and has a golden color. The edges are nearly sharp to dull. The corners are dull. It spalls easily. The top face is pitted and has a longitudinal strike. Part of the top face may be smoothed and imprinted with fine lines. The sides are smooth with faint transverse striations and grooves. The bottom face is even and may contain the maker's mark inside a rectangular side-beveled frog. The frog is 5 3/4 inches long and 2 1/8 inches wide and 1/16 inch deep. Centered in the frog is the raised block letter "H", which is 1 inch high and 3/4 inch wide. In one example, the horizontal line in the letter is slightly off centered. The interior clay body shows a fine clay matrix with about 10 percent pores as much as 1/16 inch across, 5 percent subangular white quartz, cream feldspar, and granitic rock, all less than 1/4 inch across, and 2 percent black clots of iron, less than 1/8 inch across. This brick was made using the soft-mud process in a mold. Length 8, width 3 3/4, height 2 1/4 inches.

Hubbard brick marked face
View of the marked face of the Hubbard common brick. Photo courtesy of George L. Kennedy.

Hubbard brick marked face
View of the marked face of the Hubbard common brick. Note the different style of the letter H. Donated by James Freedner.

Hubbard brick
View of the pitted top face of the Hubbard common brick.

Hubbard brick
View of the side of the Hubbard common brick.


Hubbard brick interior
View of the interior clay body of the Hubbard common brick. The large clasts are quartz and granitic rock.


An unmarked common brick of Hubbard is dark orange-red, mostly uniform in color. The surface is sand-struck with grains of quartz, feldspar, and mica, which sparkles in the sunlight. The edges are straight and nearly sharp. The corners are nearly sharp. It spalls easily. The top face is pitted and has a longitudinal strike. Some parts of the top face may be smoothed. The sides have faint transverse striations and grooves, and may contain irregular patchy lumps of excess clay. The bottom face is even with minor pits, up to 1/8 inch in diameter. The interior clay body consists of fine clay with 10 percent pores, less than 1/8 inch across, 5 percent subangular white quartz, 2 percent subangular cream granitic rock, and 3 percent black iron clots, all less than 1/4 inch across. This brick was made using the soft-mud process in a mold. Length 7 3/4, width 3 3/4, height 2 1/4 inches.

Hubbard brick
View of the unmarked bottom face of the Hubbard common brick with patches of white mortar.

Hubbard brick
View of the pitted top face of the Hubbard common brick with patches of white mortar.

Hubbard brick
View of the side of the Hubbard common brick with patches of excess clay.

References

Aubrey, Lewis E., The Structural and Industrial Materials of California, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 38, 1906, p. 254.

California Death Records.

Federal Census Records, 1900.

Federal Census Records, 1910.

Federal Census Records, 1920.

Federal Census Records, 1930.

Freedner, James, personal communications, 2009.

Kennedy, George L., written communications, 2014.

San Diego City Directories, 1889-1938.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Company, Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of San Diego, Cal., 1906.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Company, Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of San Diego, Cal., 1921.

Serr, Carol, written communications, 2010.

Social Security Death Records.

Copyright 2010 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.