California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company
Richmond Pressed Brick Company
United Materials Company
United Materials and Richmond Brick Company, Ltd.

History


Richmond Pressed Brick Co. brickyard
View of the Richmond Pressed Brick Company plant.
Courtesy of the Richmond Historical Society.

The Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company in Los Angeles was one of the major brick manufacturers in Southern California. The company's main office was located in the Frost Building, 145 South Broadway, Los Angeles. When San Francisco began ordering their hard red pavers for its streets and enameled and pressed brick for its buildings, the company took an interest in the San Francisco market. To help cut the expense of shipping brick from Los Angeles to San Francisco, the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company decided to build a new brick plant at Point Richmond, Richmond, Contra Costa County, where there was desirable clay on the property and a good shipping port close to San Francisco. This was the former site of the Remillard Potrero brickyard of the 1890s. The Richmond plant was built on 40 acres in 1907, consisting of a crushing mill, a pug mill, and a large building containing a brick press room, a large brick drying room, and a tile making and drying room. Next to the buildings were six round down-draft kilns connected to two 60-foot high square brick chimneys. John G. Gerlach was superintendent of the plant. They hired 15 to 20 men to work in the plant and yard, for nine months out of the year.

On the hill behind the plant was a blue clay shale, 39 feet thick, which provided the material for making common brick and tile. About 1,000 feet north of the blue shale was a bank of red shale, which was used for making paving brick. Both of these shales are part of the Jurassic Franciscan rocks that underlie the property. At first, these shales were quarried by blasting and using a drag line scraper. A gravity tram transported the material to the plant. By 1950, the drag line scraper was replaced by a Caterpillar bulldozer, which pushed the clay to an overhead clamshell crane, which fed the material directly to the crushing and grinding machinery. The same crane was used to unload railroad gondola cars that brought in high grade clays from Lincoln, Placer County, and Ione, Amador County. The high grade clays also constituted about 30 percent of the material used in the bricks. In 1914, the Sante Fe Railroad Company extended a spur line to the plant.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. brickyard
View of the Richmond Pressed Brick Company plant.
Courtesy of the Richmond Historical Society.

The raw materials were crushed in two dry-pan grinders until they passed through a 10- to 14-mesh screen. The raw materials included a grog of broken bricks and a small amount of barium carbonate to control efflorescence in the finished product. The crushed materials were then conveyed to elevated storage bins of 2,000-ton capacity. The clay-mix was then drawn into a pug mill where water was added. The wet clay passed into an auger where it was compressed, forced into a de-airing chamber and through an extrusion head as a ribbon of stiff mud. The brick machine was made by the American Clay Manufacturing Company and had a capacity of 100,000 bricks. The ribbon of mud was cut into brick by an automatic wire cutter. Workers would then load the brick onto kiln cars and the cars would be taken to the brick dryers to be properly dried before firing. Waste heat from the kilns was used for drying in a twin tunnel dryer 100 feet long. Pressed bricks were put through a Fernhold brick press with a capacity of 16,000 brick.

Firing was done at first in oil-fired kilns. Common bricks were fired in field kilns. Special bricks and tile were fired in the three, and later six round down-draft kilns, each having a diameter of 36 feet and a capacity of 100,000 bricks. Another 60-foot chimney was added to the three new kilns. Bricks were stacked by hand in the kilns and fired for one week. By the 1950s, a 5 1/2 by 245-foot, gas-fired Minton tunnel kiln was added. This kiln was equipped with a hydraulic car pusher and automatic temperature control. It operated on a 3-hour car schedule and remained in the kiln for 3 1/2 days. Firing was done under pyrometric and cone (04) control. Temperatures of 1,900 degrees F was attained for red brick, 2,100 degrees F for buff brick. The brick was removed by hand after firing. Special type bricks, which were easily damaged, were individually wrapped in paper when removed from the kiln.

The Richmond pressed brick plant was to supplement the brick production from several plants owned by the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company. Thus only certain types of bricks were made at this plant. Aside from the common and paving bricks already mentioned, the Richmond plant manufactured several types of face brick, Roman brick, and Norman brick. The types of face brick included Richmond red wire-cut, red ruffle, rug face, standard, buff, and buff rug. They made six types of Roman-size brick and three types of Norman-size bricks. They also made split repressed paver brick, brails brick, and firebrick. Many of the Richmond bricks can still be seen in the buildings standing throughout Northern California, namely in San Francisco, the buff face brick in the William Taylor Hotel, the buff Roman brick in the Mills Building, and the red pressed brick in the California Pacific Building, and the red wire-cut brick, Roman brick, and red repressed pavers in the Richmond city government buildings in Richmond.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. ad Richmond bricks were shipped out by barges, rail, or trucks. When production began in 1907, the plant produced 10 million common brick per year. In 1908, the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company formed the United Materials Company to sell and distribute its clay products in San Francisco. United Materials Company opened its office at 10 Third St., San Francisco. The demand for Richmond bricks and tile were so great in the early years that the plant could not meet all of their orders. The Port Costa Brick Company was called upon to help fill the orders for common brick, and eventually the United Materials Company handled all of the Port Costa products as well. Because of this, it is common to find both Richmond and Port Costa bricks in the same building. In 1910, the Richmond plant began producing pressed brick and reduced its common brick production. Different color face bricks came out in 1911 using clays from Lincoln, Placer County, and Ione, Amador County. In 1912, the company produced 9,534,000 brick, valued at over $200,000. Most of those bricks were taken by the Standard Oil Company at Richmond. In 1914, they started to make firebrick with high grade clay transported to the plant by rail. In 1922, they began making variegated rug bricks and these were advertised as "Persian Rug" brick, which provided a warm, multicolored tone to the brickwork. Starting in 1931, they began making the larger Roman and Norman face bricks. By 1950, only face bricks were being made at a rate of 25,000 per day. In 1958, face brick production increased to 40,000 per day.

In April 1920, The Richmond Pressed Brick Company was incorporated with S. W. Smith as president, Howard Frost as vice-president, W. S. Hoyt as secretary and treasurer. This allowed the Richmond company to become an independent operation, no longer under control of the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company. The main office was located in the Sharon Building, San Francisco. Frank M. Irving became the new Richmond plant superintendent, and the work force was gradually increased to 50 employees over the next four decades. In 1922, United Materials Company moved its office to 55 Montgomery Street in San Francisco, with S. W. Smith as manager. In 1926, United Materials built a new warehouse at 3435 Ward Street in Oakland, with Samuel Hannah as manager. The Oakland yard carried all of the clay products made by the Richmond Pressed Brick Company and they were neatly displayed in a series of panels. In 1930, the company changed its name to United Materials and Richmond Brick Company, Ltd. T. D. C. Johnson was president, H. F. Goss, vice-president, and Lucille R. Koplan, secretary and treasurer. Their office was located at 625 Market Street in San Francisco.

In 1966, the Richmond plant had closed due to the low demand for building brick. The plant and most of the kilns were razed. Only two kilns and one chimney were saved when the property was developed for the Brickyard Landing Condominiums. The United Materials' warehouse that once stood on Ward Street in Oakland has been replaced by low-income project development.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. brickyard
View of the Richmond Pressed Brick Company plant. From Architect and Engineer, 1929.

Richmond Pressed Brick

Common Brick

Common brick is orange red, pinkish red, or pale red, mostly uniform in color. The surface has a light coat of sand and clasts up to 1/4 inch across are rare, which may be red chert or shale, white quartz or granitic rocks. Minor light yellow flashing is present on the sides of some brick. Some have an irregular lip around the top face up to 1/4 inch thick. Minor cracks may be present. The bottom face is flat and smooth. The top face is flat and pitted with longitudinal strike marks. The edges are straight and the corners are usually dull. The interior contains 25 percent subrounded shale clasts, as much as 1/4 inch in diameter, in a sandy clay body of quartz, feldspar, mica, and iron grains. This brick was made using the sand-molded, soft-mud process. Examples shown was made in 1907. Length 8 - 8 1/8, width 3 3/8 - 3 7/8, height 2 1/2 inches.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. brick
Common red brick in the kiln wall of the Richmond Pressed Brick Company.

View of the sides of common red brick of the Richmond Pressed Brick Company.
View of the sides of common red brick of the Richmond Pressed Brick Company.

View of the interior clay body of the common red brick of the Richmond Pressed Brick Company, showing the high content of shale.
View of the interior clay body of the common red brick of the
Richmond Pressed Brick Company, showing the high content of shale.

Red Pressed Brick

Richmond red pressed brick is orange-red to red, with straight and sharp edges and corners. The surface is smooth with minor pits and crackles. Round black iron spots less than 1/32 inch across are minor. Some sides may have stack indentations. Interior clay body is orange-red and consists of granular, rounded red grains with a few black iron spots. One of the faces may have the Richmond brand name recessed inside a rectangular, beveled edge frog. The name spans a length of 4 3/4 inches as block letters 1/2 inch high. The name is set between two round screw head impressions 1/2 inch across. The frog is 6 to 6 1/4 inches long and 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Extruded, stiff-mud process, and pressed. Example shown was made in 1923. Length 8 3/8 - 8 1/2, width 3 7/8 - 4, height 2 - 2 1/2 inches.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. pressed brick
Richmond red pressed brick in the wall of the Mutual Creamery Building, Oakland.

View of the side of the Richmond Pressed Brick Co. pressed brick
View of the side of the Richmond red pressed brick.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. red pressed brick


Paving Brick

Richmond red repressed paving brick is orange red, red, or pale red, mostly uniform in color. The edges are straight and rounded and usually show the repressed line along the longer edges. The surface is smooth with longitudinal crackles or cracks. The sides may show stack indentations with a light yellow or whitish flash. Some display fine transverse striations on the sides and ends. The faces have curved wire-cut grooves and pits, less than 1/8 inch across, and a velour texture. Some have a few longitudinal grooves on the face. The clay body is red with few to abundant white quartz and feldspar grains less than 1/8 inch across and rounded red shale grains. When there is abundant quartz and feldspar in the clay, they appear as white spots on the surface of the brick. One of the faces may display the Richmond brand name in a couple of different ways. One version occurs as raised block letters one inch high centered on the face with three round screw head imprints above and three below the name. Another has recessed block letters 3/4 inch high within a shallow rectangular frog 6 inches long and 1 3/8 inches wide. Extruded, stiff-mud process and pressed. Length 8 3/8, width 3 3/4 - 4, height 2 1/4 - 2 3/8 inches.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. red pressed paving brick
View of the sides of the Richmond red pressed paving brick. Note the rounded edges.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. red pressed paving brick
Richmond red pressed paving brick with raised lettering.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. red pressed paving brick
Richmond red pressed paving brick with recessed lettering.


Smooth Face Brick

Richmond buff face brick is light to dark buff with straight edges and sharp corners. Sides and ends are smooth. Some may be finely freckled with round black iron spots ranging up to 1/4 inch across; the larger spots constitute one percent. The faces display curved wire-cut grooves with a slight velour texture. The interior clay body displays sand sized grains of white quartz, cream feldspars, black iron, and red particles. On one side is impressed with recessed block letters RICHMOND PRESSED BRK CO., 1/2 inch high, and usually off centered. Extruded, stiff-mud process, and pressed. Length 8 - 8 1/4, width 3 3/4 - 4, height 2 3/8 inches.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. buff face brick
Richmond buff face brick in the wall at 701 Estudillo Street, Martinez.


View of the side of the Richmond buff face brick.
View of the side of the Richmond buff face brick.


Close-up view of the surface of the Richmond buff face brick
Close-up view of the surface of the Richmond buff face brick.


View of the interior of the Richmond buff face brick.
View of the interior of the Richmond buff face brick.


View of the side of the Richmond buff face brick.
View of the side of the Richmond buff face brick.


View of the side of the Richmond light buff face brick.
View of the side of the Richmond light buff face brick.


Close-up view of the side of the Richmond light buff face brick.
Close-up view of the surface of the Richmond light buff face brick.


View of the interior of the Richmond light buff face brick.
View of the interior of the Richmond light buff face brick.


View of the side of the Richmond yellow buff face brick.
View of the side of the Richmond yellow buff face brick.


Richmond variegated buff and salmon face brick are mottled from light buff to dark brown colors with round brown or black iron spot up to 1/8 inch across, constituting about 15 percent. Bricks have straight edges and sharp corners. The faces display curved wire-cut grooves with a slight velour texture. The interior clay body displays sand sized grains of white quartz, cream feldspars, black iron, red particles, and a translucent green mineral. On one side is impressed with recessed block letters RICHMOND PRESSED BRICK CO., 1/2 inch high, and usually off centered. Extruded, stiff-mud process, and pressed. Length 8 1/8, width 4, height 2 3/8 inches.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. buff face brick
Richmond variegated buff face brick in the wall of the Byron Museum, Byron.


View of the side of the Richmond light buff face brick in the wall of the Byron Museum, Byron.
View of the side of the Richmond light buff face brick in the wall of the Byron Museum, Byron.


Close-up view of the surface of the Richmond light buff face brick in the wall of the Byron Museum, Byron.
Close-up view of the surface of the Richmond light buff face brick in the wall of the Byron Museum, Byron.


View of the side of the Richmond dark brown face brick in the wall of the Byron Museum, Byron.
View of the side of the Richmond dark brown face brick in the wall of the Byron Museum, Byron.


Close-up view of the surface of the Richmond dark brown face brick in the wall of the Byron Museum, Byron.
Close-up view of the surface of the Richmond dark brown face brick in the wall of the Byron Museum, Byron.


Richmond pressed brick in rose and light buff mottled colors. Tiny black iron spots less than 1/16 of an inch across visible on surface. Edges are straight and corners are sharp. Clay body is buff with grains of white quartz, white and cream feldspars, pinkish red grains, and black iron grains. Faces not observed. Extruded, stiff-mud process, and pressed. Example shown was made in 1928. Length 8 3/8, width 4 3/8, height 2 1/2 inches.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. buff face brick
Richmond rose and light buff face brick in the wall of an apartment on Page and Cole streets, San Francisco.


Enameled Brick

Richmond reddish brown enameled face brick with straight edges and sharp corners. The surface may display blisters or black iron spots as much as 1/2 inch across. Enamel does not completely cover the surface of some bricks. Faces not observed. Extruded, stiff-mud process, and glazed. Length 8 1/8, width 3 3/4, height 2 3/8 inches.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. reddish brown enameled face brick
Richmond reddish brown enameled face brick in the wall at 701 Estudillo Street, Martinez.


Ruffled Brick

Richmond red ruffled face brick with very rough texture and uniform dark red color with a few black iron spots. It has straight edges and sharp corners. Longitudinal grooves on sides and faces. Curved wire-cut grooves on ends, indicating end-cut bricks. Stack indentations displayed on some faces. Extruded, stiff-mud process. Example shown was made in 1912. This brick has small dimensions. Length 7 7/8, width 3 1/2, height 2 1/8 inches.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. red ruffled face brick
Richmond red ruffled face brick in the wall at St. Paul Episcopal Church, Oakland.



Rug Brick

Richmond red rug face brick is red, mostly uniform in color, with straight edges and sharp corners. Sides and ends have deep transverse grooves, usually spaced in uneven pairs 1/8 to 1/4 inch apart. The sides contain 33 grooves and the ends 14 grooves. One side not scored contains a crackled surface along with both longitudinal and transverse grooves. Faces display curved wire-cut grooves. Interior clay body is orange with milky white quartz up to 1/8 inches across, red stained feldspar, and gray shale. Extruded, stiff-mud process. Example shown was made in 1920. Length 8 1/8, width 3 7/8, height 2 1/4 inches.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. red rug face brick
Richmond red rug face brick in the wall of Lakeview School, Oakland.


Richmond "Persian" rug face bricks are composed of buff, salmon, and pink colored bricks with straight edges and sharp corners. The sides and ends have deep transverse grooves at irregular intervals ranging from 32 to 41 on the side and 10 to 14 on the end. Irregular shaped black iron spots up to 1/2 inch across can be seen on the surface. Faces display curved wire-cut grooves with a slight velour texture and pits up to 1/4 inch across. On some bricks the unscored side may contain the name RICHMOND PRESSED BRICK CO. or RICHMOND PRESSED BRK. CO. in recessed block letters 3/8 inch high. The interior clay body is buff with grains of white granitic rocks, brown-tinted quartz, red shale and black iron grains up to 1/4 inch across. Extruded, stiff-mud process. Example shown was made in 1926. Length 8 1/4, width 3 7/8, height 2 3/8 inches.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. variegated buff rug brick
Richmond variegated buff rug brick in the wall of the Sharkey Building, Martinez.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. buff rug brick marked side
Richmond buff rug brick showing the company name impressed into the back side of the brick.


Roman Brick

Richmond rough-textured Roman brick is red, with straight edges and sharp corners. Ends have curved wire cut grooves indicating end-cut bricks. Interior clay body is red with small grains of gray shale and a few granitic rocks. Extruded, stiff-mud process. Example shown was made in 1948. Length 12, width 3 3/4, height 1 5/8 inches.

Richmond Pressed Brick Co. red Roman rough-textured brick
Richmond red Roman-size rough textured brick in the wall of the Hall of Justice, Richmond.


References

Architect and Engineer, April 1929, p. 12.

Architect and Engineer, February 1929, p. 12.

Architect and Engineer, July 1926, p. 124.

Architect and Engineer, June 1920, p. 141.

Architect and Engineer, March 1917, p. 126.

Architect and Engineer, May 1922, p. 125.

Architect and Engineer, October 1922, p. 112.

Architect and Engineer, October 1923, p. 34A.

Brick, v. 33, no. 8, 1910, p. 93.

Brick, v. 39, no. 10, 1911, p. 395.

Davis, Fenelon F. and Goldman, Harold B., Mines and Mineral Resources of Contra Costa County, California, California State Mining Bureau, California Journal of Mines and Geology, v. 54, no. 4, 1958, p. 501-583.

Davis, Fenelon F., and Vernon, J.W., Mines and Mineral Resources of Contra Costa County, California, California State Mining Bureau, California Journal of Mines and Geology, v. 47, no. 4, 1951, p. 561-618.

Dietrich, Waldemar F., The Clay Resources and the Ceramic Industry of California, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 99, 1928, p. 74-75.

Doty, Riley, written communication, 2009.

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.

Oakland Tribune, February 16, 1913, p. 39.

Richmond City Directories, 1908-1965.

San Francisco City Directories, 1907-1930.

Copyright 2007 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.