California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Remillard Brick Company, Potrero Yard

History


In 1861, three brothers from Saint-Valentin, near Montreal, Canada, came to Oakland, Alameda County, California, to establish a brickyard. They were Pierre (Peter) Nicolas, Hilaire, and Edouard (Edward) Remillard. Their firm was named Remillard and Brothers, and they opened an office and yard at Clay and 2nd streets, Oakland, and a brick plant in nearby Brooklyn. In 1879, the firm incorporated to become the Remillard Brick Company. Peter N. Remillard was president, Philip Hilaire Remillard was vice-president, and P.H. Lamoureux was secretary.

Map of the Remillard Potrero brickyard
Map showing the location of the Remillard Potrero brickyard.


After the depletion of clay at their Oakland yard, the Remillards searched for new clay deposits. In 1875, the Remillard Brick Company located a shale deposit at Point Richmond, Contra Costa County, California, that was suitable for making red pressed and hard common bricks. This property was owned by John Nicholl and it is not known if Remillard purchased or leased the property for their brickyard. No record of purchase could be found in the Contra Costa County Recorders Office, so this would indicate that they may have leased the property. The Remillard Potrero brickyard was located midway between Richmond and Potrero Points on the shore of San Francisco Bay, where the bricks could be easily transported out by schooners. This yard was also known as the San Pablo or Richmond yard.

The material was quarried from the nearby hillside, crushed, and mixed in a pug mill. Bricks were formed in wooden molds or in a brick press. The bricks were laid on the ground to be air-dried. After properly dried, the bricks were fired in large field kilns using wood for fuel. Three types of common bricks were made at this yard, soft, hard, and pressed. The soft brick was made from the surficial material on the property which contained a lot of different rocks from the Franciscan Complex. The hard and pressed bricks were made of crushed shale mixed with a grog of white quartz. This yard employed about 100 workers.

During the first year, the yard produced 6.7 million bricks. 300,000 of these were pressed brick, which were used in the U. S. Appraisers Building in San Francisco. In the following years, the Potrero yard was producing 12 to 13 million bricks per year. Some of the earliest pressed bricks were used to face the Nichols Block in 1876 and the Snyder's Block in 1879 in Oakland. This yard supplied over 1.8 million Remillard bricks that were used in the original San Francisco City Hall and some were stamped "CH" denoting City Hall. The Potrero yard along with the San Rafael yard sustained the Remillard Brick Company during the 1870s and 1880s, before they were replaced by the Remillard brickyards at Pleasanton, Greenbrae, and San Jose. The bricks from the Potrero yard are difficult to distinguish on the surface from those from the San Rafael yard, as the same process was used in making these bricks. However, internally the Potrero brick appears to have a higher clast content and more variety of rock types. However, this may not be the same for the pressed brick, which used mostly crushed shale. No maker's marks, were observed and none are known to exist from this yard, except for the ones made specifically for the San Francisco City Hall as mentioned above.

The Potrero yard had closed sometime between 1892 and 1896, the exact date has not been determined yet. The Remillard Potrero brickyard and quarry were later operated by the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company, or better known as the Richmond Pressed Brick Company.


Remillard Potrero Brick

Common Brick

Common brick is orange, orange-red, red, pale red. The form is good, with undulating dull edges and dull corners. The surface is coated with sand and has a rough feel and some are pitted. A light yellow flashing in transverse patterns are on some sides along with stack indentations. Irregular lip up to 1/4 inch thick is present in some around the top edges. Bottom face is flat and even. Top face is pitted. The interior has lots of clasts (20 to 30 percent) up to 1 inch across, though most are less than 3/8 inch across. The clasts include white quartz, red, green and yellow cherts, red and black shales, and yellow and gray sandstones. These are in an orange-red porous, sandy clay body. This brick was made by the soft-mud process using a wooden mold. The example shown was made in 1879. Length 8 1/4, width 4, height 2 3/8 inches.

Remillard Potrero common brick
View of the sides of the Remillard Potrero red common brick in the Snyder's Block in Oakland. The
brick in the center shows the true surface texture of the common brick. Others are slightly eroded.

Remillard Potrero common brick
View of the sides of the Remillard Potrero red common brick in the Snyder's Block in Oakland. Grayish
green, yellow and red cherts, black shale, and white quartz are exposed in the extremely eroded surface.

Remillard Potrero common brick interior
View of the interior of the Remillard Potrero red common brick in the
Snyder's Block in Oakland. The largest chert clast is 3/8 inch across.


Pressed Brick

Pressed brick is orange-red and mostly uniform in color. The form is good, with straight and nearly sharp edges and dull corners. The sides may show minor pits and small cracks. The faces could not be observed for description. Rare white specs of quartz can be seen on the surface of some bricks. This brick was made by the soft-mud process and machine pressed. The example shown was made in 1879. No dimensions are available.

Remillard Potrero pressed brick
View of the sides of the Remillard Potrero red pressed brick in the face of the Snyder's Block in Oakland.

References

Brick and Clay Record, v. 26, no. 1, 1907, p. 26

Daily Alta California, September 2, 1878.

Daily Alta California, January 3, 1879.

Lamoureux, Michel, written communication, 2017.

Oakland Tribune, Alameda County, The Oakland Tribune, Oakland, 1898.

Oakland Transcript, Remillard Brothers, January 23, 1876.

Remillard Brick Company Ledgers, 1879-1892.

U. S. Geological Survey, San Francisco, 15-minute Topographic Quadrangle Map, Feb. 1899.

Copyright 2011 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.