California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Pacific Brick Company, Pasadena

Simons Brick Company, Pasadena

History


In 1886, Reuben and Melissa Simons and their six children left Hamburg, Iowa, for Los Angeles, California. Reuben was a brickmaker, born in Leicester, 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 covering 22 acres at Oak Knoll in the southern part of Pasadena. There were two clay beds, the upper bed was 10 to 15 feet thick overlying 12 to 14 feet of sand and gravel. Below that was the lower clay bed 20 to 30 feet thick, resting on coarse gravel. The lower clay bed contained so much iron that it caused considerable shrinkage in the bricks when burned. But the clay made good, hard common red brick that was in great demand in the area.

Aerial view of Simons Brick Co. brickyard at Pasadena
Simons brickyard was at the end of Franklin Avenue (right center) in Pasadena. From Bennett and Woodworth, 1903.

Reuben mined the clay from a pit and set up his brick plant at the foot of Franklin Avenue (now South Oak Knoll Avenue). The plant at the time was surround by citrus orchards. The Simons lived in a house near the corner of East California Blvd. and Franklin Avenue. At the yard, with the help of his sons, the first bricks were handmade, using wooden molds, air dried, and fired in wood-burning field kilns. These bricks were probably not marked. The first ones were used in the original Raymond Hotel nearby.

In 1896, the Pacific Brick Company was organized, with Joseph Simons as president and manager and Elmer O. Simons as secretary. A 36-horsepower electrical engine and a Potts soft-mud brick machine were acquired to increase production to 36,000 bricks per day. By this time, the bricks were fired in open kilns using oil as fuel. The Simons hired 30 to 45 laborers. In 1898, Elmer Simons set up an office for the company at 125 West Second Street in downtown Los Angeles to market the bricks in the city. It is not known if the bricks were marked with the company name at this time. To my knowledge, I have not heard of a "Pacific" brick from this company having been found yet.

In 1900, the Simons Brick Company was incorporated with a capital stock of $100,000. The Pasadena company office was located at 10 South Fair Oaks Avenue and, in 1904, the office was moved to the Slavin Building at the northwest corner of North Fair Oaks and East Colorado aveunes. The Los Angeles office was in the Stimson Building at 125 West Third Street in Los Angeles. The Simons sons at this point were running the company with Joseph Simons as president, Elmer Simons as secretary and treasurer, and Walter R. Simons as vice-president. Their father Reuben was 63 years old and had retired from brickmaking.

That year it was reported that the Pasadena plant was running at full capacity. Over 250,000 repressed brick and 700,000 common brick were sent to the new Catholic Church on 12th and Los Angeles streets in Los Angeles. Plus there were orders coming in for the construction of the new Methodist Church and the Throop building addition in Pasadena. The competition for brick was so fierce in Los Angeles that a brick combine was formed to control the brick market and they offered $25,000 for the Simons' brick plant. The Simons Brick Company had refused to join the combine. The combine subsequently accused the Simons Company of undercutting the price of brick from $6 per 1,000 to $4 per 1,000. But the company prevailed and the Simons brick remained popular. The use of the Simons brand name on the brick made at this plant probably began in 1900.

As the area around the Pasadena plant was transformed from orchards to residential neighborhoods, the Simons Brick Company became the subject of increasing protests from its new neighbors over the traffic and pollution. In 1912, the Simons Company had increased its capitalization to $600,000 in preparation of major expansion of its operations at other locations. By 1913, the Pasadena brickyard was forced to close its operations forever. The land was sold in 1917, and it was eventually subdivided and swallowed by the encroaching residential neighborhood. Today, one would not know that there ever was a brickyard in the Oak Knoll neighborhood. The Simons Brick Company continued to keep an office in Pasadena at the northwest corner of Center and Broadway until 1927, and at 131 East Del Mar until 1929.

Although the Pasadena yard closed, the Simons Brick Company was able to expand its operations to five other sites in the Los Angeles area, including Los Angeles (Boyle Heights), Santa Monica, Simons, Montebello, and Inglewood, employing over 450 workers. All of these brickyards used the SIMONS brand name on their bricks, and I will distinguish the bricks to their plant of origin on the various Simons Brick Company pages on this site. This company became one of the largest common brick producers in the country, with production rates reported at between 500,000 to 700,000 bricks per day. The company advertised itself as "the largest common brick producer in the world."

Reuben Simons died at the age of 73 years in 1910. 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. 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. In 1924 and 1925, Walter was elected the president of the California Common Brick Manufacturers' Association. Walter and his wife Edna and daughter Drusilla continued to live at the Simons residence on East California Avenue in Pasadena. The Simons Brick Company operated continuously up until the death of Walter Simons in November 1954, at the age of 80 years.

Please see the Simons Brick Company listed under Los Angeles County on the Brickmaker page for further information about its affiliated brickyards.

Simons Pasadena Brick

Simons common brick made in Pasadena is orange to orange red with smooth surfaces. The brick is irregular with undulating, dull edges and dull corners. The top face is irregular and heavily pitted with a strong lip, up to 1/4 inch thick, around the top edge. The sides contain a few pits. The bottom face is flat and even. The marked bottom face contains a rectangular frog with beveled sides that is 6 1/4 inches in length and 1 7/8 inches in width. Block letters spelled "SIMONS" are raised in the center of the frog. The name spans 5 5/8 inches and stand 1 1/8 inches. The letters are 1/4 inch thick, which is thicker than seen on bricks from other yards. The interior clay body is a fine quartz-rich sandy clay with 3 percent pores and 5 percent subangular white quartz, up to 1/2 inch across, and black iron oxides, less than 1/ 16 inch in diameter. The brick was made using the sand-molded, soft-mud process. Length 8 1/8 - 8 3/8, width 4, height 2 1/8 - 2 1/2 inches.

Simons Pasadena common brick marked face
View of Simons common bricks displaying the marked face. Photo courtesy of James Freedner.


Simons Pasadena common brick
View of Simons common bricks in the wall of the Union Garage, Pasadena, made in 1907.


Simons Pasadena common brick interior
View of the interior of a Simons brick showing a few white quartz in a fine clay body.


References

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

Benedict, W.W., and Woodworth, W.S., Map of Pasadena, Bird's Eye View of Pasadena and Vicinity, Prepared for Wm. R. Staats Co, 1903.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 38, no. 4, 1911, p. 261.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 40, no. 10, 1912, p. 474.

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

Brick and Clay Record, v. 64, no. 5, 1924, p. 358.

Clay Worker, v. 33, no. 3, September 1900, p. 224.

Clay Worker, v. 34, no. 1, July 1901, p. 48.

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

Federal Census Records, 1880.

Federal Census Records, 1900.

Federal Census Records, 1910.

Federal Census Records, 1920.

Freedner, James, written communication, 2007-2009.

Los Angeles City Directories, 1898-1937.

Los Angeles Herald, Reuben Simons Dies, March 8, 1910.

Pasadena City Directories, 1902-1931.

Wood, J.W., Pasadena, California, Historical and Personal, 1917, p. 558.

Copyright 2008 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.