California brick

Joehnck & Volkam

Oxnard Brick Yard


Joehnck and Volkam brick ad
Advertisement from the Oxnard Courier, 1900.

Frederick Joehnck and John Frederick Volkam operated the Oxnard Brick Yard in Oxnard, California. Joehnck was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, in 1862. He arrived in California in 1890, and settled in Oxnard, California, in 1898. He was a bricklayer and contractor by trade. Volkam was born in Germany in 1842, and came to Oxnard about the same time. He was a brickmaker. In November 1898, the two men formed a partnership to manufacture brick on the land of the Colonia Improvement Company, a firm that had laid out the new town of Oxnard, named for pioneer Henry T. Oxnard, who established a sugar-beet refinery there 1897. The brickyard was leased and was located in southern part of town.

The red-burning clay was obtained from a surface deposit on the property. The first field kiln was reported to contain 130,000 bricks. The brick were molded by a brick machine and fired in a ten-arch field kiln. Wood fuel was replaced by 20 oil burners in October 1901. The oil was blown into the furnace from a perforated steam pipe connected to a 50 horsepower boiler. The kiln consumed 50 barrels of crude oil per day. W. C. Reno was in charge of the firing under the supervision of Volkam. Ten laborers were employed at the yard. They made common, face, and ornamental brick.

The "Oxnard Brick Yard", as it was called, supplied brick for most of the early brick buildings in Oxnard. Their first large contract was for the Baptist Church that once stood on the corner of A and 6th Streets. In February 1900, Joehnck and Volkam did the brickwork and Volkam also did the stone work on the large church ediface with a 56-foot tall spire. In June 1901, a contract came in for 400,000 brick for Contractor H. A. Gidding in Ventura. This large job required the men to build and fire the kiln near the job site in Ventura. In 1901, they also provided the brick for a one-story post office building erected on the south side of the park.

In March 1902, the Oxnard Brick Yard was forced to close its yard because the Colonia Improvement Company decided to sell their property south of town. Joehnck and Volkam consequently purchased 400 acres of land along the Santa Clara River near Montalvo, where they moved their brickyard. I estimated that the Oxnard Brick Yard had produce nearly a million bricks during its three years of operation. Because all of the early buildings have been demolished, I have not been able to find a sample of this early brick to show here. The example that I show came from the Montalvo brickyard, which is probably similar in style to their earlier brick but different in composition. It is possible that the original bricks are still in the foundations, walls, and chimneys of some of the first built homes in Oxnard. Any homes built between 1898 and 1902 are likely to have the original Oxnard brick.

Even though they moved the brickyard to Montalvo, it was still called the Oxnard Brick Yard. On their new clay property, Joehnck and Volkam immediately built a small field kiln of only a few hundred bricks, using oil to burn their newly made bricks. The bricks turned out to be as good as the ones made before. The first bricks were used in the two-story office and residence of Dr. G. A. Broughton on North Fifth Street in Oxnard, with Joehnck doing the masonry work. Bricks were also sent to the residence of Alexander B. Day on C Street, between 6th and 7th streets, in Oxnard. By September 1902, they had built two field kilns, each containing 300,000 bricks, to fill the increasing demand for their new brick. In January 1903, bricks were made for the Witman Building in Oxnard.

Just when everything was booming at the Oxnard Brick Yard, an unexpected tragedy hit on March 17, 1903. Frederick Volkam had passed away at the age of 60 years, after a brief illness. Volkam was not married. The Oxnard Courier wrote, "He was a conscientious hard working man and whenever there was a kiln of brick to burn would take no sleep night or day until it was entirely completed. A few months ago he took a trip East to his old home and relatives in Iowa."

Joehnck and Volkam brick ad
Advertisement from the Oxnard Courier, 1903.

Catholic Church at Oxnard
Joehnck continued on with the brickyard burning some 300,000 to 600,000 brick per year, many of which were consumed in the brick blocks in Oxnard. The bricks were delivered in his highly popular wagon made by the Pettis Implement Company. Alexander B. Day was the foreman at the brickyard. By October 1903, he had delivered 200,000 brick to the new Catholic Church on E and Third streets in Oxnard. In 1906, the bricks were used in the new Post Office building and for a cottage for the Wolff sisters on C Street. In 1908, Joehnck purchased a lot at First and B streets in Oxnard and erected for his family a new two-story brick house. The Joehnck family also consisted of his wife, Anna, who was born in Germany in 1861, and one son, Detlef Joehnck, who was born in 1893 in California.

By the end of 1909, the Oxnard Brick Yard had produced 6.5 million bricks. About this time, Joehnck had closed the brickyard and concentrated on his contracting work around town. The loss of the local brickyard had prompted an editorial in the Oxnard Courier complaining about the high price of brick from Los Angeles and the desire of having their own local brickyard again.

Anna Joehnck passed away after a long illness on January 31, 1921. Their son Detlef had moved to Las Animas, Colorado. Fred Joehnck eventually retired to Santa Barbara and there he passed away on August 14, 1949, at the age of 87 years. Although the Joehncks are long gone from Oxnard, their bricks remain standing in many fine buildings around town.

Oxnard Brick

Face Brick

The face brick orange to pale orange red to pale red, mottled to uniform in color. The sides are smooth, but often with small pits, which increases with weathering. Fine transverse lines and a light yellowish flash can be seen on some sides. Minor cracks and a few subangular white quartz up to 1/2 inch across are commonly seen on the sides. The edges are sharp or nearly sharp, corners chipped or dull. The form is straight and even. The bottom face is flat and smooth, but with fairly large pits up to 3/4 inch across, and lots of visible white quartz. The top face is rough and pitted and displays longitudinal strike marks. No maker's name was seen on any of the bricks and none are known to exist. The interior clay body is grainy with a high content of sand, is porous, and contains about 10 to 20 percent subangular white quartz up to 1/2 inch across. This brick was made in 1903 for the Catholic Church. Manufacturing years range from 1902 to 1909. The brick was made using the soft-mud process molded in a brick machine. Length 8, width 3 7/8, height 2 1/2 inches.

Joehnck and Volkam brick
View of the side of Oxnard face brick in the wall of the Catholic Church.

Joehnck and Volkam brick
View of the bottom face (top picture) and top face (bottom picture) of the Oxnard face brick.

Joehnck and Volkam brick
View of the weathered surface of the Oxnard face brick where most of the smooth surface has disappeared.

Joehnck and Volkam brick interior
View of the interior clay body of the Oxnard face brick, showing the abundant white quartz clasts in a sandy clay body.


California Death Records.

Clay Worker, March 1899, p. 269.

Federal Census Records, 1900.

Federal Census Records, 1910.

Federal Census Records, 1920.

Oxnard Courier, April 9, 1946.

Oxnard Courier, April 26, 1902.

Oxnard Courier, August 2, 1902.

Oxnard Courier, August 25, 1911.

Oxnard Courier, August 27, 1902.

Oxnard Courier, December 30, 1910.

Oxnard Courier, February 9, 1921.

Oxnard Courier, February 10, 1900.

Oxnard Courier, February 21, 1903.

Oxnard Courier, February 28, 1902.

Oxnard Courier, January 6, 1900.

Oxnard Courier, January 10, 1903.

Oxnard Courier, January 11, 1902.

Oxnard Courier, January 31, 1921.

Oxnard Courier, June 6, 1904.

Oxnard Courier, June 8, 1901.

Oxnard Courier, July 13, 1901.

Oxnard Courier, March 16, 1901.

Oxnard Courier, March 21, 1903.

Oxnard Courier, March 22, 1902.

Oxnard Courier, May 9, 1903.

Oxnard Courier, May 10, 1902.

Oxnard Courier, May 31, 1902.

Oxnard Courier, November 13, 1903.

Oxnard Courier, November 26, 1909.

Oxnard Courier, October 9, 1903.

Oxnard Courier, October 12, 1901.

Oxnard Courier, October 19, 1906.

Oxnard Courier, September 11, 1908.

Ventura County Deed, 1898.

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