CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Port Costa brick adPort Costa Clay Products Co. logo

Port Costa Brick Company

Port Costa Clay Products Company

Port Costa Materials, Inc.

History


In 1905, the Port Costa Brick Company established a brickyard about three-quarter mile east of the town of Port Costa on Carquinez Straits. The brick company was incorporated that year with $300,000 in capital stock. The directors were Chris G. Berg, R.W. Spence, and Jacob Beck of Los Angeles, and E.E. Bowles and H.G. Clark of San Francisco.

Chris Berg
Chris G. Berg owned the brick works. Photo courtesy of Betty Bloom.


A bank of blue shale weathered to reddish clay was mined about 1000 feet south of the plant. This clay was mixed with clay shipped from Lincoln, California. They built a 22-compartment Hoffman continuous kiln of 40,000 brick per day capacity and 11 field kilns. In 1957, they installed a 265-foot tunnel kiln with supporting dryers and product storage area. Other equipment included two No. 3 Williams pulverizers, three 9 ft. American dry pans, revolving screens, bins, Giant auger brick machine, American No. 290 tile auger, Chambers No. 5C rotary tile cutter, Freese brick cutter, and drying sheds with a 22-tunnel oil-fired drier.

Horse-drawn scrappers were initially used to mine the clay
Horse-drawn scrappers were initially used to mine the clay. Photo courtesy of Betty Bloom.


Port Costa brick works, c. 1920
Port Costa brick works, c. 1920. Photo courtesy of Betty Bloom.


In 1908, the Port Costa Company teamed up with the Richmond Pressed Brick Company, operating at Point Richmond, to distribute their products under the name of the United Materials Company. This is the reason why we find bricks from both companies commonly associated together in buildings. Port Costa made the common building brick while the Richmond Pressed Brick Company supplied the face brick. This association helped to establish both brickmakers prominently in the San Francisco building market.

Plant Superintendent B. F. Ferrario at the Port Costa Brick Works
Plant Superintendent B. F. Ferrario at the Port Costa Brick Works. Photo courtesy of Todd Swenson.


Loading Port Costa bricks into trucks. Superintendent B. F. Ferrario is standing in the center.
Loading Port Costa bricks into trucks. Superintendent B. F. Ferrario is standing in the center. Photo courtesy of Todd Swenson.


In 1920, Chris G. Berg was president, W.S. Hoyt was secretary, and B. F. Ferrario was superintendent. After the passing of Chris Berg, his son Bob became the owner of the brick works. Art Culver became the general manager of the brick works. In 1928, Port Costa produced 1 million to 1.25 million brick per month. In 1958, production was 90,000 to 120,000 brick per day. The company employed 50 to 60 workers.

View of the Port Costa brick works
View of the Port Costa brick works. From Bradley, 1921.


Some of the employees at the Port Costa brick works, c. 1920
Some of the employees at the Port Costa brick works, c. 1920. Photo courtesy of Betty Bloom.


A diesel-powered shovel loaded trucks with the clay shale at the quarry. The truck took the clay to the plant where it was fed into a dry grinding pan, mixed with a grog of broken brick, then sent over an 8-mesh screen. Coarse material that didn't fall through the screen was returned to the circuit. The material that passed through the screen was blended with Lincoln clay, then sent to the pug mill where it was mixed with water to make a stiff mud. The mix was de-aired, then extruded through a rectangular die onto a conveyor belt. The long ribbon of brown clay on the conveyor was fed into an automatic wire cutting machine that sliced the ribbon into blocks of eight brick. The cut blocks were then placed on kiln cars, which were sent through a series of tunnels. First the green brick went to a conditioning tunnel, where it was kept at a temperature of 70 to 90 degrees F. Then to the waste air drying tunnel, which was 95 to 150 degrees F. The final tunnel was the continuous gas-fired kiln, 265 feet long, that held 26 cars. Here the temperature reached 1,840 degrees F, as measured by recording optical pyrometers. The bricks were in the dryer two days and in the firing kiln two and a half days. The kiln car would emerge with a load of fired red brick, ready for cooling. The brick was shipped to market by trucks. Port Costa bricks were shipped throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley.

Port Costa office and showroom at 6th and Berry Streets, San Francisco
Port Costa office and showroom at 6th and Berry Streets, San Francisco.
What a shame that this wasn't saved! Architect and Engineer, 1929.


Port Costa had an office at first in the Balboa Building and later at 808 Sharon Building in San Francisco. They also had a showroom and sales yard at 6th and Berry streets, San Francisco, where customers could view examples of all of their products, and an assortment of colors, textures, and patterns. The building itself was a cute brick English bungalow, built in 1929, and made of the various products from the Port Costa works, such as common, select reds, klinker, velour, and bronze face brick, promenade tile, and hollow wall tile. Jumbo and norman bricks were manufactured later. Hollow wall tiles were made starting in 1924.

View of the Port Costa Brick Works truck hauling brick
View of the Port Costa Brick Works truck hauling brick. Photo courtesy of Todd Swenson.


These Port Costa bricks were used in many buildings around the San Francisco Bay area. Some of the buildings made of this brick included Frick School in Oakland, Webster and Jefferson schools in San Francisco, the University of California Life Sciences building in Berkeley, the Glidden factory in Berkeley, the California-Hawaiian sugar refinery in Crockett, the Stauffer Chemical plant in Berkeley, the Chevrolet factory in Oakland, two wings in the San Francisco County Hospital, the Columbia steel works in Pittsburg, and the firehouse (now library) in Redwood City. Port Costa brick was commonly used on store fronts recognized by the distinctive norman brick. Good example of their norman brick can be seen in the brick gate at the entrance to their property east of Port Costa as well as on many store fronts throughout the San Francisco region.

Bob Berg, 1949
Bob Berg, 1949. Photo courtesy of John E. McNear.


In 1964, owner Bob Berg retired and sold the Port Costa brick works to the Homestake Mining Company, which was looking to diversify its mining business. Being a gold mining company based in San Francisco, Homestake had no experience mining shale or manufacturing bricks. Company Vice President Langan Swent was put in charge of the Port Costa brick works. Art Culver remained the general manager until 1970, when he was succeeded by Raymond J. Brown. In 1964, the company name was changed to the Port Costa Clay Products Company. They immediately expanded and modernized the brick plant and built a new expanded-shale aggregate plant, which was called the PC-7. These works brought Homestake a small revenue during the period they were operated by them. In 1967, the shale was mined using a 22 cubic yard scrapper, dozer, and backhoe. The scrapper hauled the shale directly to the grizzly. A twin motor impactor was used as a crusher and the material was screened to three sizes. The crusher and screening unit had a capacity of 200 tons per hour. The brick plant used about 2,500 tons of crushed shale per week. The crushed shale was stored in silos. Further grounding was done in a rim discharge muller, with a capacity of 200 tons per hour. This materials was screened to four sizes and sent to storage bins of 110-ton capacity each. These bins were located adjacent to the brick plant. The ground shale was then sent to the pugmill to be mixed with water and sand and then to the extruder. The extruded bar was wire cut to desired widths and sent to the dryers. After drying, the bricks were fired in a tunnel kiln using natural gas. The brick plant had a capacity of 120,000 brick per day. The bricks were strapped onto pallets and shipped out by trucks.

View of the Port Costa Clay Products works in 1966
View of the Port Costa Clay Products works in 1966. Bricks were fired in the building left of center. Photo courtesy of Stuart Glazier.


Port Costa Clay Products came out with a California Heritage brick series, which included brand names such as The Red Ruffle, The Fawn, The Sierra, The Shasta, The Mission Adobe, The Sonora, The Klinker, The Sand Mold, and The Navajo. The color choices included Medium Red, Dark Red, Circus Red, Fiesta, Rodeo Tan, Olympic Buff, Fawn, Monterey, Coral Buff, Dark Brown, and Black. However, the bricks were not marked with names. These were also available in a variety of textures, such as ruffle and sculptured. Their most popular line was the used brick made by tumbling common brick in a mixture of tar and mortar. In addition to the standard size brick, 8 x 3 3/4 x 2 1/2, they made Norman, 11 1/2 x 3 x 2 1/2; Roman paver, 11 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 1 1/2; Jumbo (round cores), 11 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 3, Double Jumbo (square cores) in red only, 11 1/2 x 5 1/2 x 3 1/2; Split paver, 8 x 3 3/4 x 1 1/4; and Modular, 7 5/8 x 3 5/8 x 2 1/2.

Hollow partition tile blocks were made up to about 1950 with dimensions of 12 x 12 x 4 inches. These are the only products known to be marked with the company name on the faces of the block. Ralph Dean of the Fregene's Pizza Shop at 356 Petaluma Blvd. North in Petaluma has preserved and exposed a wall of these hollow tiles for viewing in his 1910 historic building (see picture below).

View of the lightweight aggregate works of the Port Costa Clay Products Company in 1966
View of the lightweight aggregate works of the Port Costa Clay Products Company in 1966. The rotary kiln is
shown in the foreground and the storage silos in the background. Photo courtesy of Stuart Glazier.


In 1971, Homestake sold the Port Costa brick works to Rhodes and Jamieson, Ltd., an aggregate and cement firm based in Oakland, California. Rhodes and Jamieson continued the brick and PC-7 expanded shale operations under the name of the Port Costa Products Company. The details of the bricks produced during this period are unknown. About 1982, the brick works were sold to the Port Costa Materials, Inc., a subsidiary of PLA Holdings, Inc. Brick were produced until 1991, and lightweight aggregate until 1995. In 1992, Ross Gephart was president, Robert Stewart was vice president, and Lee Allen was the production manager. There were 43 employees. It was reported that the company was losing a million dollars a year at the works in the early 1990s.

In 1995, Texas Industries, Inc., purchased the assets of PLA Holdings, Inc., and changed the name to the Pacific Custom Materials, Inc., which acquired the Port Costa Materials, Inc., in January 1996. All former workers were laid off. By February 1996, when the operations started up again, the company had hired 34 workers. This company operated as a lightweight aggregate producer until about 1998, when the works were permanently closed. The plants have since been dismantled and plans are underway to restore the property to its natural state.

View of the former property of the Port Costa Brick Company (left) and clay quarry (right)
View of the former property of the Port Costa Brick Company (left) and clay quarry (right).
The plant was abandoned when this was taken in 2002.


Port Costa Brick

Common Brick

Early common brick is orange, orange red, and dark red with visible dark gray clasts on the surface. Color is mottled, but probably due to the pinkish white flashing so commonly seen on these bricks. Overburns are brown to black. Smooth surface texture, often with crazing or deep cracks. No lip present. Straight edges and rounded corners. Faces contain a velour texture with low-angle wire-cut grooves. Interior consists of 5 percent gray to black shale in a granular clay body. This brick was made using the stiff-mud process. Length 7 7/8 - 8 1/2, width 3 3/4 - 4, height 2 1/2 - 2 3/4 inches.

Swett High School in Crockett is made of Port Costa brick
Swett High School in Crockett is made of Port Costa brick.


Port Costa brick, showing typical flash pattern, on the wall of Swett High School in Crockett.
Port Costa brick, showing typical flash pattern, on the wall of Swett High School in Crockett.



Port Costa brick, showing darker shades of color on the wall of Swett High School in Crockett
Port Costa brick, showing darker shades of color on the wall of Swett High School in Crockett.


Tumbled Used Brick

Port Costa brick made to look used by tumbling common brick in tar and mortar
Port Costa brick made to look used by tumbling common brick in tar and mortar.


Rug Brick

Rug brick is orange to red and displays evenly spaced transverse grooves on one side and one or both ends. There are 33 grooves on the side and 15 grooves on the ends. The other side is smooth, usually with a crackled surface and flash patterns may be present. The faces display curved wire-cut marks. Extruded, wire-cut, stiff-mud process. The dimensions are the same as in their common brick.

View of the side of a Port Costa rug brick
View of the side of a Port Costa rug brick.



View of the end of a Port Costa rug brick
View of the end of a Port Costa rug brick.



Ruffle Face Brick

Ruffle face brick is orange-red to red, tan, buff, or brown, with visible dark gray and red clasts on the surface. Smooth to rough surface texture, often showing short transverse grooves or pits on the sides. No lip present. Straight edges and sharp corners. Extruded, stiff-mud process. Curved wire cut marks on short edges. Top and bottom faces have abundant pits. Length 7 7/8 - 8 1/2, width 3 3/4 - 4, height 2 1/2 - 2 3/4 inches.

Port Costa Ruffle face brick showing typical wire-cut extruded form with short grooves and pits
Port Costa Ruffle face brick showing typical wire-cut extruded form with short grooves and pits.


Port Costa Navajo Ruffle brick, with a brown coarse-body, in a bank building in San Leandro
Port Costa Navajo Ruffle brick, with a brown coarse-body, in a bank building in San Leandro.


Port Costa Fawn Ruffle brick, with a dark gray coarse body, in the Morse Building in Berkeley
Port Costa Fawn Ruffle brick, with a dark gray coarse body, in the Morse Building in Berkeley.


Port Costa Olympic Buff Ruffle brick, in the Masonic Hall in San Leandro
Port Costa Olympic Buff Ruffle brick, in the Masonic Hall in San Leandro.


Norman Brick

Norman brick is orange-red to red, with visible dark gray clasts on the surface. Smooth to rough surface texture, often showing short transverse or longitudinal grooves on the sides. No lip present. Straight edges and sharp corners. Extruded, stiff-mud process. Curved wire cut marks on short edges. Top and bottom faces have abundant pits. Length 11 3/8, width 3 1/2, height 2 1/8 inches.

Port Costa Norman brick, showing typical extruded wire-cut form with abundant short grooves and pits
Port Costa Norman brick, showing typical extruded wire-cut form with abundant short grooves and pits.


Jumbo Brick

Jumbo brick is orange-red to red, with visible dark gray clasts on the surface. Smooth to rough surface texture, with short transverse or longitudinal grooves on the sides and deep long sculptured surfaces. Flashed colors present on some. Straight edges and sharp corners. Extruded, stiff-mud process. Curved wire cut marks on two sides. Length 11 1/2, width 3 1/2, height 3 1/2 inches.

The Sonora Port Costa Jumbo brick in the Telfer Building in Martinez, built in 1978
The Sonora Port Costa Jumbo brick in the Telfer Building in Martinez, built in 1978.



The Shasta Port Costa Jumbo brick in the Antioch Middle School, Antioch
The Shasta Port Costa Jumbo brick in the Antioch Middle School, Antioch.


Hollow Tile Block

Port Costa hollow tile block is orange, mostly uniform in color. Prominent are 8 to 10 deep longitudinal grooves, 1/4 inches wide, on the narrow sides of the block and 7 to 22 grooves on the faces. The tile is one-inch thick with a rectangular opening in the core. The name of the company "PORT COSTA BRICK WORKS SAN FRANCISCO" in recessed 1/2 inch block letters is stamped on a one-inch wide strip on the larger face of the block. The words are repeated continuously and are truncated at both ends of the brick. This brick was made from 1929 to 1940s using the stiff-mud process, extruded, and end cut. Length 12, width 12, depth 4 inches.

View of the Port Costa hollow clay tile block
View of the Port Costa hollow clay tile block. Photo courtesy of Randy Berggren.


View of the Port Costa hollow clay tile block with part of the marking
View of the Port Costa hollow clay tile block with part of the marking. Photo courtesy of Randy Berggren.


View of the Port Costa hollow clay tile block displaying the complete marking in a wall at the<br /> 
Fregene's Pizza Shop in Petaluma
View of the Port Costa hollow clay tile block displaying the complete marking in a wall at the
Fregene's Pizza Shop in Petaluma. The surface has been painted white. Photo courtesy of Ralph Dean.



. View of the Port Costa hollow clay tile block displaying two marked courses in a wall at the
Fregene's Pizza Shop in PetalumaThe surface has been painted white. Photo courtesy of Ralph Dean.


References

Architect and Engineer, April 1929, p. 161.

Architect and Engineer. New Home of Port Costa Brick Works. August 1929.

Bergstrom, John H. PC-7, California Firm Blends Seven Sizes of Expanded Shale To Produce Quality Lightweight Aggregate. Rock Product, November 1967, p. 62-67.

Bloom, Betty, personal communication, 2006.

Bradley, Walter W., California Mineral Production For 1920, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 90, 1921.

Brick and Clay Record, July 31, 1905, p. 37.

Dean, Ralph, owner of Fregene's Pizza Shop in Petaluma, written communication, 2013.

Huguenin, E., and Castello, W. O. Mines and Mineral Resources Contra Costa County. California State Mining Bureau 17th Report of the State Mineralogist, 1920, p. 48-67.

Davis, Fenelon F. and Goldman, Harold B. Mines and Mineral Resources of Contra Costa County, California. California Journal of Mines and Geology, v. 54, no. 4, 1958, p. 513-514.

Dietrich, Waldemar F. The Clay Resources and the Ceramic Industry of California. California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 99, 1928.

Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. Secretary of Labor vs. Port Costa Materials, Inc., July 28, 1994.

Glazier, Stuart, written communications, 2009.

Pit and Quarry, December 1970, p. 23.

Pit and Quarry, July 1971, p. 28.

Pittsburg Dispatch, February 13, 1924, p. 7.

Port Costa Clay Products Company. Port Costa Clay Products Catalog. c. 1967 (California Historical Society archives).

San Francisco City Directories, 1907-1962.

Swenson, Todd, written communication, 2009.

Swent, Langan W. Working For Safety and Health In Underground Mines: San Luis and Homestake Mining Companies, 1946-1988. Western Mining in the Twentieth Century Oral History Series, Interview conducted by Malca Chall, The Bancroft Library, 1995.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. James S. Scott vs. Pacific Custom Materials. July 18, 1996.

Copyright 2009 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.