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Sunset Brick and Tile Manufacturing Company

History


The first brickyard in what was to become known as the noted Santa Monica clay deposit was that of the Sunset Brick and Tile Manufacturing Company, organized on June 22, 1903, with a capital stock of $50,000. The officers of the company were Robert F. Jones, William T. Gillis, Joseph H. Spires, C. H. Sweet, and R. M. Miller. They secured 22 acres of land at the southwest corner of Colorado Avenue and 26th Street in Santa Monica. The clay deposit was 10 to 35 feet thick and dipped to the northwest, where it increased in thickness. The quality of clay here was reported to be better than that found near Los Angeles and suitable for the manufacture of brick and hollow tile. The clay was mined from a pit. The Sunset Company used the alluvial-rich clay in its early made bricks. As the pit deepened, fine vitrified clay was used. The yard was connected with a railroad spur with the Los Angeles-Pacific Railroad Company.

W.T. Gillis
William T. Gillis. From Ingersoll, 1908.

Two of the founding officers of the brick company were William T. Gillis and Joseph H. Spires. Gillis was a native of Nova Scotia, Canada, and came to California in 1887. He first opened a drug store in Santa Monica and then embarked in real estate, as president and manager of the Pacific Land Company, which developed Sawtelle and the Palisades. Joseph Spires was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1853 and died in 1913 in Los Angeles. He married Mary Harrison in 1879 at Grand Rapids, Michigan. He came to Los Angeles in 1888. He was well known as a hotel man, but he was also involved in many other ventures, such as the railroad, gas company, mining, and manufacturing.

J.H. Spires
Joseph H. Spires. From McGroarty, 1921.

Operations began in early July 1903, when Chinese laborers were hired to manufacture bricks for the brickyard engine house. They produced 10,000 bricks per day using an old-fashioned hand-brick machine. The first 500,000 bricks were fired on August 4, 1903, in open square kilns using oil. Half of these bricks were used in the brickyard structures.

By January 1904, the old yard was transformed into a modern brick plant. The new brick plant building was 130 by 75 feet. It contained a 300-horsepower Corliss engine with a colony of steel upright boilers, two brick machines, a repress machine, steel-framed brick cars, drying tunnels with a capacity of 80,000 bricks, a hot air fan, which drew the waste heat from the kilns, square open kilns with a capacity of 375,000 bricks each, and four round downdraft kilns with a total capacity of 100,000 bricks. The round kilns were lined with firebrick and cost $4,000 each. The drying tunnels were 110 feet long by 7.75 feet high. One of the brick machines was a stiff-mud automatic wire-cut machine that made 5,000 bricks per hour. The second machine was a dry-press machine with a capacity of 2,000 bricks per hour. The plant capacity was 55,000 bricks per day. In August 1904, 35 workers were employed under C. H. Sweet, plant manager, from Georgia. In August 1904, machinery for the manufacture of roofing tile and hollow block were ordered with plans to hire 20 to 25 more workers. The latter products probably were not made until after the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company later operated the yard.

Sunset Brick Ad
From Santa Monica Outlook, 1905.

Sunset made red wire-cut and pressed bricks in beautiful sunset colors. On September 11, 1903, the first 50,000 bricks was sold to the City of Los Angeles for storm drains, which was a large contract won to provide 600,000 bricks. In November 1903, 20,000 bricks went into the cottage of brick mason Andrew Nink on 11th Street in Santa Monica that was reported to be the first brick house built in Santa Monica. Unfortunately, this house is no longer standing. In June 1904, Sunset submitted the lowest bid at $18 per thousand for the Los Angeles outfall sewer, which it had won. In October 1904, Sunset bricks were used in the brick store built in 1904 for M. H. Volkmann at 1410 Third Street, the I.O.O.F. building (1906) at 1431 Third Street, and the Roy Jones home on Adelaide Drive (1907) in Santa Monica. These provide examples for Sunset pressed and wire-cut bricks shown below. Many of the current brick buildings built from 1904 to 1907 in Santa Monica are made of Sunset bricks.

In August 1904, the Sunset Brick and Tile Manufacturing Company merged with the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company. In the following three years, the two firms operated separately and only the financial interests were combined. The officers of the Sunset Company at the time of the merger were E. P. Clark, Robert F. Jones, William T. Gillis, Joseph H. Spires, and C. H. Sweet. In 1907, the Sunset Brick and Tile Manufacturing Company was dissolved and the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company began operating the brickyard for its vitrified bricks. For the continuation of this brickyard history, see Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company Santa Monica yard.

Sunset Bricks

Sunset Pressed Bricks

Pressed bricks are orange, orange-red, red, and pale red, with uniform color. Surface is smooth with visible red and white clasts, pits and cracks. Some bricks contain large cracks and spalled surfaces. Weathered surfaces expose more clasts and have a rough surface. Form is irregular to straight, with dull edges and corners, some broken off. Clumps of clay are commonly attached to the surface. Top edges may have an irregular single lip, 1/4 inch thick, or double lips, 1/2 inch thick. Stack indentation may be present on the sides or faces. Faint yellowish flash is rarely seen. Bottom face is smooth and flat, while the top face is pitted with strong longitudinal strike marks. Earlier made bricks contain more clasts than later made bricks. The interior consists of 10 to 40 percent subangular white quartz and granite, subrounded gray shale, red sandstone, red siltstone, red chert, and volcanic rocks, and round black iron oxides, ranging from 1/8 to 1 inch across, in a porous, sandy clay to fine clay body. Pores range from 3 to 5 percent and range in size from 1/32 to 1/8 inch in diameter. This brick was made using the soft-mud process in a brick press. Length 8 1/4, width 4, height 2 1/8 inches.

View of the sides of the Sunset pressed brick made in 1904.
View of the sides of the Sunset pressed brick made in 1904.

View of the sides of the Sunset pressed brick made in 1904.
View of the sides of the Sunset pressed brick made in 1904.

View of the smooth sides of the Sunset pressed brick made in 1907.
View of the smooth sides of the Sunset pressed brick made in 1907.

View of the weathered sides of the Sunset pressed brick made in 1904.
View of the weathered sides of the Sunset pressed brick exposing lots of clasts made in 1904.

View of the smooth face of the Sunset pressed brick made in 1904.
View of the smooth face of the Sunset pressed brick made in 1904.

View of the interior of the Sunset pressed brick made in 1904.
View of the interior of the Sunset pressed brick made in 1904.

Sunset Wire-Cut Bricks

Wire-cut bricks are in shades of orange-red with uniform color. Surface is smooth with visible red and white clasts, pits and cracks. Weathered surfaces expose more clasts and have a rough surface. Form is good with straight nearly sharp edges and dull corners. Jagged wire-cuts are displayed along the top and bottom edges. Sides display transverse grooves and cracks. Yellow flash may be present on some bricks. Faces display curved wire-cut marks with angled velour texture and a wavy undulating surface. Short edges are rounded, many with feathered cracks. Wire-cut bricks contain 20 to 30 percent less clasts than the pressed bricks. Earlier made bricks contain more clasts than later made bricks. The interior consists of 5 to 20 percent subangular white quartz and granite, subrounded gray shale, red siltstone, red sandstone, red chert, and volcanic rocks, and round black iron oxides, ranging from 1/8 to 3/8 inch across, in a compact sandy clay to compact fine clay body. Pores are 1 to 2 percent and range from 1/32 to 1/8 inch in diameter. This brick was made using the extruded stiff-mud process and wire-cut on the faces. Length 8 1/4, width 4, height 2 1/4 inches.

View of the sides of the Sunset wire-cut bricks made in 1904.
View of the sides of the Sunset wire-cut bricks made in 1904.

View of the sides of the Sunset wire-cut bricks made in 1904.
View of the sides of the Sunset wire-cut bricks made in 1904.

View of the sides of the Sunset wire-cut bricks made in 1906.
View of the sides of the Sunset wire-cut bricks made in 1906.

Close-up view of the smooth side of the Sunset wire-cut brick.
Close-up view of the smooth side of the Sunset wire-cut
brick. Note the jagged bottom edge from the wire-cuts.

Close-up view of the short edges of the Sunset wire-cut brick showing the feathered cracks.
Close-up view of the sides of the Sunset wire-cut brick
displaying the feathered cracks on the short edges.

View of the wire-cut face  of the Sunset wire-cut brick made in 1907.
View of the wire-cut face of the Sunset wire-cut brick made in 1907.

View of the interior of the Sunset wire-cut brick made in 1904.
View of the interior of the Sunset wire-cut brick made in 1904.

View of the interior of the Sunset wire-cut brick made in 1906.
View of the interior of the Sunset wire-cut brick made in 1906.

References

Aubrey, Lewis E., The Structural and Industrial Materials of California, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 38, 1906, p. 246-248.

Begin To-Day To Burn Bricks, Santa Monica Outlook, August 4, 1903.

Bids Opened For Vitrified Brick, Los Angeles Herald, June 21, 1904.

Brick, v. 19, no. 3, 1903, p. 111.

Brick, v. 19, no. 4, 1903, p. 124.

Brick, v. 19, no. 6, 1903, p. 201.

Brick For City Storm Drains, Santa Monica Outlook, September 1, 1904.

Building Has Been Great, Santa Monica Outlook, December 17, 1904.

Clay Record, v. 23, no. 1, July 14, 1903, p. 32.

Clay-Worker, v. 41, no. 4, April 1904, p. 524.

Clay-Worker, v. 42, no. 3, September 1904, p. 282.

Clay-Worker, v. 42, no. 4, October 1904, p. 386.

First Order of Bricks Is Sold, Santa Monica Outlook, September 11, 1903.

Ingersoll, Luther A., Ingersoll's Century History Santa Monica Bay Cities, Los Angeles, California, 1908.

McGroarty, John Steven, Los Angeles from the Mountains to the Sea, American Historical Society, Chicago and New York, 1921.

Report of the Secretary of State, State Corporations, Journal of the Senate of the State of California, 1908, p. 79.

Santa Monica Outlook, April 15, 1905.

Sunset Brick & Tile Company, Santa Monica Outlook, August 26, 1904.

Will Build Brick Cottage, Santa Monica Outlook, November 2, 1903.


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