California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Simons Brick Company, Plant Number 1, Boyle Heights, Los Angeles

History


Walter R. Simons
In 1886, Reuben and Melissa Simons and their six children left Hamburg, Iowa, for Los Angeles, California. Reuben was a brickmaker, born in England in 1836, and had immigrated to the United States in 1866. Reuben and his teenage sons, Joseph, Elmer, and Walter, located a clay deposit in the southern part of Pasadena, where they opened their first brickyard. In 1896, they formed the Pacific Brick Company, with Joseph Simons as manager and Elmer O. Simons as secretary. Their main office was located in the Stimson Building at 125 West Third Street Los Angeles. The Pasadena brickyard was a great success and soon the Simons sons were eager to expand their brick manufacturing business to other areas.

In 1898, they were interested in the clay deposit at Boyle Heights in Los Angeles, and initially purchased 11 acres of land on the east bank of the Los Angeles River. The tract, located on a bluff 70 feet above the river, commanded a beautiful view of downtown Los Angeles. Initially, the Simons brothers formed the Pacific Brick Company to operate this yard, but it later became known as Plant Number One of the Simons Brick Company. This is not to be confused with another Reuben Simons brickyard that was located nearby on the south side of East 7th near Boyle Avenue. This Reuben Simons may have been a cousin of the Simons brothers and he was operating a brickyard here as early as 1894. It may well have been their cousin Reuben who tipped off the Boyle Heights location to the Simons when they were seeking additional clay deposits to mine.

The plant office was set up at 1117 South Boyle Avenue. In 1900, the Simons Brick Company was incorporated with a capital stock of $100,000. Joseph Simons was president, Elmer Simons was secretary and treasurer, and Walter R. Simons was vice-president. In 1906, this company purchased 100 acres of clay land, which in 1913 contained clay reserves of 876,468 tons and this was expected to be depleted in 10 years.

The clay bank was in the upper part of the Boyle Heights Terrace formation, which is a sandy loam, 30 feet thick, resting on sand and gravel. A steam shovel excavated the clay from the wall of the steep bluff. The clay was put into dump cars and then power drawn up an incline to the Potts crusher. Later, as the quarry widened, a two-horse team was used to convey the clay to hopper.

Pacific Brick Company brickyard at Boyle Heights
View of the Pacific (Simons) Brick Company's machine building at the
Boyle Heights brickyard, Los Angeles. From the Clay Worker, 1900.


At the plant, the Boyle Heights clay was dropped into the Potts crusher by the automated dump cars, screened, and mixed with a little water in the pugmill. The bricks were formed using a Potts brick press. A Chandler & Taylor 30-horse-power engine provided power for the machinery. The plant building was made of open construction so as to take advantage of the natural climate all year round.

Pacific Brick Company brickyard at Boyle Heights
View of an off-bearing truck used at the Boyle Heights
brickyard, Los Angeles. From the Clay Worker, 1900.


The newly formed bricks were then loaded onto specially made off-bearing trucks capable of holding 12 pallets of brick. The bricks were air-dried in dry sheds and then placed into large scove kilns, each holding 200,000 bricks. These kilns were fired with oil, requiring 1.5 barrels per thousand of brick. The bricks were burned in three days, producing uniformly hard burned, square cornered brick, that rang like a bell. Around the arches of the kiln were formed a bonus of "blue" brick, which were popular for trimmings and sold for twice the price of regular red brick. The sand-molded bricks were stamped with "SIMONS" in raised letters set in a rectangular frog. But not every brick was marked. The daily output of this plant was about 36,500 brick.

Pacific Brick Company kilns
View of the large scove kiln at the Boyle Heights
brickyard, Los Angeles. From the Clay Worker, 1900.


In 1900, there were about 15 employees. They worked eight to eight and a half hours per day. The yard men, miners, machine operators, and teamsters were paid $1.75 per day; pitchers, $2.00 per day; setters and burners, $2.50 per day; and other laborers, $0.75 to $1.25 per day.

Brickyards within the city limits of Los Angeles came under the scrutiny of city officials instigated by the increasing number of complaints of local residents concerned about the noise and smoke pollution. On December 31, 1901, the city passed an ordinance regulating the establishment and maintenance of brickyards in the city. The Simons Brick Company had to apply for permission to continue to operate their brickyard on Boyle Avenue. On January 27, 1902, the Boyle yard was granted the city permit to operate in Boyle Heights. By 1902, the company was producing 150,000 brick per day from their Pasadena and Boyle Heights yards. A large order for 1,400,000 brick was made for the new Potter Hotel in Santa Barbara, keeping both yards busy.

Simons Brick Company brickyard at Boyle Heights
View of the Simons Brick Company's Boyle Heights brickyard. From Aubrey, 1906.


In 1906, after a new clay deposit was purchased by the Simons Brick Company in Santa Monica, a tiling plant was built at the Boyle Heights yard. This plant manufactured mission-style roofing tile and hollow tile blocks, using a mixture of the local clay and the Santa Monica clay. The Southern Pacific laid a spur railroad track to the yard. But disaster struck in April 1914, when sparks from an electric controller fell on the roof of the tiling plant causing $15,000 in losses to the brickyard. The brick and tiling plants were rebuilt with new equipment. The new brick plant got the American soft-mud and stiff-mud brick machines for making common brick and ruffle brick, respectively. The new tiling plant was equipped with the American presses for manufacturing 8-inch hollow tile and roofing tile. Eight down-draft kilns were built for burning the tile. These kilns used natural gas. The bricks were fired in field kilns.

Home of Joseph Simons
Home of Joseph Simons constructed of hollow tile walls and roofing tile made at the Boyle Heights brickyard. From Byers, 1915.


In 1913, Elmer Simons, a native of Iowa, died at the age of 44 years. In 1916, Walter Simons bought all of the interest in the brick company from his brother Joseph Simons, who decided to embark in the citrus business in San Bernardino County. That year the company had decreased its capitalization from $600,000 to $300,000.

In 1919, the Simons Brick Company began producing the 12-inch brick hollow wall. This required the use of special stretcher and header bricks placed on a wall of standard bricks spaced four inches apart and five courses high. The stretcher brick is the same size as the standard brick with its corners cut off. The header brick has rounded ends and two indents on top for stronger mortar support. The header brick is marked with the SIMONS brand name. These units were manufactured only at the Boyle Heights plant. They were used in a number of warehouses, schools, and residences in Los Angeles.

In 1920, the yard ordered 400 six-brick cherry molds, 8 13/16 x 4 1/8 x 2 14/32 inches, with one panel carrying the "SIMONS" name in a rectangular frog. These bricks were about 1/4 inch thinner than the ones made at other plants.

Simons Brick Company brickyard at Boyle Heights
View of the Simons Brick Company's Boyle Heights brickyard. From Merrill, 1916.


The company officers in 1928 were Walter Simons as president, Robert P. Isitt as vice-president, H. B. Howeth as secretary, and J. T. Crampton as treasurer. By this time, the Boyle Heights clay deposit was exhausted and all of the clay used at this plant was shipped from their clay pit in Santa Monica. Probably when the yard ran out of clay, this plant ceased making brick and only hollow tiles and roofing tiles were made using clay shipped from their Santa Monica yard. The tiles were formed by the stiff-mud process using Mueller machines. After one week in the drying shed, the tiles were fired in down-draft kilns. The yard by this time had expanded to 12 down-draft kilns and a double rectangular kiln. By mixing the Santa Monica clays with white plastic and pink-burning clays, purchased from Alberhills in Riverside County, they were able to produce light pink, cream, and buff tile.

During World War II, the Boyle Heights plant reduced production of their products due to the war and labor shortage. The demand declined for the hollow tile units as concrete was becoming more popular in structural walls. In 1947, the Simons Brick Company closed the Boyle Heights yard. In 1948, parts of the Boyle Avenue property were sold to the Times-Mirror Press and other industries. Two years later, in November 1954, Walter Simons passed away at the age of 80 years.

Simons Boyle Heights Brick

Common Brick


Common brick is orange red to various shades of red, mostly uniform in color. The surface is smooth. Edges are nearly sharp, but often chipped, and not always straight. Corners are broken. The sides are flat and even, with 1/8 to 1/4-inch prominent lip around the top edge. Sides may display stack indentations and faint transverse grooves. The top face is uneven, rough, highly pitted with longitudinal strike marks. The pits may be as much as one inch across and deep. Some top faces may display stack indents. The bottom face is flat and smooth. Marked bottom faces contain a rectangular frog with raised block letters of the name "SIMONS. The frog and name can vary considerably in size. The rectangular frog has beveled sides and is 1/16 to 1/8 inch deep. The frog is 6 3/8 inches long and 1 3/4 to 2 inches wide. At the bottom of the frog and centered are the raised block letters of the name "SIMONS", which span 4 13/16 to 5 3/8 inches in length and 1 to 1 7/8 inches in height. There are two different styles of the letter "M" (see pictures below). The letters are thin, ranging between 1/16 and 1/8 inch in thickness, which is one of the distinguishing features of the marked bricks from the Boyle Heights plant. The internal clay body has very fine clay and sand, with 10 percent pores, ranging up to a half inch across. There are about 20 to 30 percent clasts of mostly sand-sized grains of subrounded milky white quartz, subangular greenish black ferromagnesium mineral, and black iron grains, all less than 1/16 inch across. Some bricks may contain rounded clots of yellowish or grayish white clay that may be as large as 1/2 inch in diameter. The distinguishing features among the Simons common brick are that the Boyle Heights brick appears to have less clasts than the Santa Monica, Inglewood, and Simons yard bricks. The clasts in the Boyle Heights brick are mostly milky quartz or rounded clots of yellowish clay, whereas in the Santa Monica and Inglewood bricks they are mostly granitic rocks, and in the Simons yard brick they are quartz, feldspar, mica, and granitic rocks of higher content. The Pasadena brick is cruder (uneven) in form, rougher, and has a lower clast content, but larger sized subrounded quartz and granite (up to 1/2 inch across) compared to the Boyle Heights brick. The Boyle Heights common brick was made using the machine-molded, water-struck, soft-mud process. Length 8 1/4 - 8 3/4, width 3 3/4 - 3 7/8, height 2 1/4 - 2 3/8 inches.

Simons Brick Company Boyle Heights common brick
View of the bottom face displaying the SIMONS mark.

Simons Brick Company Boyle Heights common brick
View of the bottom face displaying the SIMONS mark. Note a different style "M".

Simons Brick Company Boyle Heights common brick
View of the side of the Simons brick.


Simons Brick Company Boyle Heights common brick
View of the rough top face of the Simons brick.

Simons Brick Company Boyle Heights common brick interior
View of the interior clay body of the Simons brick. The white minerals are quartz.

Simons Brick Company Boyle Heights common brick interior
View of the round clots of yellowish clay exposed on the surface of the Simons
brick. The largest clot in the upper left corner is 1/2 inch across.


Header Brick of the 12-Inch Brick Hollow Wall


The header brick is orange-red, mostly uniform color. Like the Simons common brick, it has a smooth, although pitted, surface. The interior clay body is granular and porous, and mixed with fine sand composed of white quartz, cream feldspar, and black iron. A few subangular granitic clasts, less than 1/4 inch across, are present, indicating the mixture of Santa Monica clay with the local clay. The most distinguishing features of this brick are the rounded ends, grooved sides, and the two deep indentations on the bottom face of the brick, which are 2 3/4 inches high and about 1/4 inch deeper than the frog. The frog in the center is rectangular, 6 1/8 inches long, 1 7/8 inches high, and 1/8 inch deep. Centered in the bottom of the frog are raised block letters of the name "SIMONS", which span 5 inches in length and 1 inch in height. The top face of the brick is highly pitted, with pits 3/4 inch across, and displays longitudinal strike marks. The sides show two prominent transverse grooves 1 3/4 inches from the ends and 4 3/4 inches apart. The rounded ends show one transverse groove down the center. This header brick was formed by a mold using the soft-mud process. Length 8 5/8, width 3 3/4, height 2 1/4 inches.

Simons Brick Company Boyle Heights header brick
View of the bottom face of the Simons header brick showing the pair of deep indents and mark. Donated by Roy Anaclerio, Jr.

Simons Brick Company Boyle Heights header brick
View of the side of the Simons header brick showing the two prominent grooves.

Simons Brick Company Boyle Heights header brick
View of the pitted top face of the Simons header brick.

Simons Brick Company Boyle Heights header brick
View of the header and stretcher bricks used in the
12-inch brick hollow wall. From Brick and Clay Record, 1924.

Simons Brick Company Boyle Heights 12-inch hollow brick wall
View of the Simons 12-inch hollow brick wall showing the positions
of the header and stretcher bricks. From Brick and Clay Record, 1924.

Source

Aubrey, Lewis E., The Structural and Industrial Materials of California, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 38, 1906, p. 248-249.

Boalich, E.S., Castello, W.O., Huguenin, Emile, Logan, C.A., and Tucker, W.B., The Clay Industry In California, California State Mining Bureau Preliminary Report 7, 1920, p. 58.

Brick, v. 16, no. 2, 1902, p. 114.

Brick, v. 16, no. 3, 1902, p. 138, 158.

Brick, v. 17, no. 4, 1902, p. 164.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 43, no. 3, 1913, p. 314.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 44, no. 11, 1914, p. 1295.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 49, no. 3, 1916, p. 243.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 49, no. 8, 1916, p. 725.

Brick and Clay Record, Perfects New 12-Inch Brick Hollow Wall, v. 62, no. 4, 1924, p. 324.

Brick and Clay Record, Simons Brick Continuously and Consistently Advertised, v. 68, no. 4, 1926, p. 310.

Byers, Charles Alma, When the Brickmaker Builds, Brick and Clay Record, v. 46, no. 12, 1915, p. 1138.

Clay Worker, v. 12, no. 9, 1898, p. 23.

Clay Worker, November 1900, p. 362-263.

Dietrich, Waldemar F., The Clay Resources and the Ceramic Industry of California, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 99, 1928, p. 119-120.

Freedner, James, written communications, 2007-2009.

Higgins, Josh, written communications, 2012.

Los Angeles City Directories, 1894-1934.

Los Angeles Herald, Two Spur Tracks Granted, October 9, 1906.

Los Angeles Times, Times-Mirror Press Branch Building to Be Constructed, Sept. 19, 1948, p. IV-3.

Merrill, F.J.H., Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside County, California State Mining Bureau 15th Report of the State Mineralogist, part 4, 1916, p. 461-589.

Pasadena Star News, Started Brickyard, August 8, 1962.

Ries, Heinrich, and Leighton, Henry, History of the Clay-Working Industry in the United States, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1909.

Simons Brick Company, A Corporation, Petitioner, v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Respondent, In the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 6082, Filed November 18, 1930.

Stoll, G.C. ledgers, Western Claymachinery Sales, Inc., copied by Josh Higgins, 2012.

Copyright 2010 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.