California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company

History


picture of brickyard
Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company yard in Vallejo. San Francisco Examiner, 1892.

Henry T. Scott
In January 1889, officers of the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, John H. Wise, Charles S. Preble, Henry T. Scott, and Walfrid Burkman, examined the ground around the 5th Street Cut and Solano Avenue in Vallejo and discovered a deposit of clay that was suitable for making terra cotta products. They immediately contacted the landowners and offered investment opportunities in their brick and terra cotta business in return for the clay deposit to be mined. Some of the property was owned by the Vallejo Land and Improvement Company headed by S.G. Hilborn, president, and E.J. Wilson, vice-president and secretary, and this was deeded over to the new brick company with the stipulation that the land be returned if the company was not extracting the clay or manufacturing brick and terra cotta within one year or if the works are abandoned within two years. Neighboring landowners at the end of Solano Avenue also sold their properties to the brick company and this came to a total of 35 acres, 7 of which was to be covered by the extensive brick works.

In March 1889, The Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company was incorporated with Directors John H. Wise, Henry T. Scott, G.E. Moore, Charles H. Frost, T.H. Downing, S.G. Hilborn, and W.C. Price. Capital stock was $200,000 divided into 2,000 shares. $150,000 was subscribed by C.H. Frost, O.E. Moore, H.T. Scott, C.S. Preble, C.A. Sherman, J.C. Wise, F.A. Wilson, T.H. Downing, S.G. Hilborn, W.D. Toby, W.Z. Price & Son, E.A. Husing, and W.E. Price. The company office was in the Flood Building in San Francisco. In mid-March, the City Board of Trustees approved the building of the brick works and the relocation of the City Pound which had occupied part of the property.

On March 26, 1889, ground was broken when the company put six two-horse teams and a large gang of men to work grading the foundation of the new plant. By June 1891, five large wooden buildings with corrugated iron roofs were erected for the brick and terra cotta works. The first building was two and a half stories in height, 135 feet in length, and 30 feet in width, and housed the terra cotta department. The second building was one and a half stories in height, 135 feet in length, and 50 feet in width. It contained two round muffle kilns for firing terra cotta products and was vented by a 60-foot tall chimney. The third building was the same size as the second and contained a steam boiler and engine of 90-horsepower from the Union Iron Works of San Francisco, of which was owned by Director Henry T Scott. This furnished all of the power needed for the machine shop, crushers, and 8 brick presses. The crushers and brick presses were patented designs of Superintendent Walfrid Burkman. The machine shop had all of the machinery and tools needed by the company to manufacture any parts without going outside. The fourth building of one and a half stories in height, 135 feet in length, and 60 feet in width, held one round and three rectangular kilns used for firing pressed brick. These kilns were vented by two 60-foot tall chimneys. The fifth building was a single-story warehouse set perpendicular to the others on the south end of the fourth building and was used to store finished pressed bricks. The warehouse was about 110 feet in length and 20 feet in width. On the waterfront was built a receiving wharf with a 500-foot long building to shelter products waiting to be shipped by water. The long wharf was 1,800 feet in length and built by McMahan and Son of San Francisco. The plant and wharf were connected by rails with a turntable in between. Water was supplied by a 10,000-gallon water tank owned by the city and piped to the plant. The 1901 Sanborn map indicates that a railroad spur was extended to the north side of the plant and other modifications were made to the mentioned buildings at a later date.

C.G.H. Mac Bride
Initially, Walfrid Burkman was in charge of the brick department and Alphonse Le Jeune was in charge of the terra cotta department. Le Jeune served as manager until 1892. Le Jeune, who was the master artisan in the terra cotta department, left the company in 1893 to pursue his own architect and contracting business. From 1892 to 1895, Thomas P. Bryant was manager. From 1895 to 1896, C.G.H. Mac Bride served as manager and Ebenezer Scott as secretary. The 40 workers hired in late 1889 grew to 110 by August 1891, and reached a maximum of 160 in February 1893.

The brick presses turned out 8,000 brick daily. The kilns had a capacity of 50,000 brick each. The brick was packed in crates of 50 each, weighing 300 pounds. Daily output weighed 18,000 pounds, enough to fill three railroad cars. However, most of the products were shipped by scows to San Francisco. In May 1891, the State Harbor Commissioners gave storage space to the company on the bulkhead, between Vallejo and Green streets in San Francisco, for a monthly rent of $30.

In the first week of July 1889, brick production commenced with the firing of the first 40,000 pressed brick. The shales that were mined for the brick came from the Cretaceous Chico Formation on their property and contain about 60 percent silica, 30 percent alumina, and 10 percent iron oxides, magnesia, water, and other impurities. Shales of different properties were stored separately and blended for the right consistency. The shale was crushed and pulverized to a fine dry powder. This powder was then put into a hopper, which dropped the powder into a clay receptacle. When the mold was ready to receive more powder, the receptacle fed a die with movable steel faces which enclosed the powder with 20 tons per square inch of pressure. One machine made two pressed bricks in 15 minutes. The dry-pressed brick made here was the first of its kind to be made on the Pacific Coast. No drying was required using the dry-process. The stacked bricks were put immediately into the kiln to be fired into hard brick. Three weeks were required for the firing, which consumed 23 tons of coal. The fired brick had a glossy surface in shades of buff, cream, red, brown, gray, black, or mottled, all achieved by the skill of the kiln-burner. The average brick was tested to withstand 16,000 pounds of pressure. Only stock and fancy (ornamental) bricks were produced. The corner molded brick all reverse exactly and were numbered and lettered according to colors. All shapes were molded including arches, wedges, half-rounds, and bullnoses. Smooth, rock, and glazed textures were available. The company also worked with architects to create custom designed bricks. Pressed brick sold for $40 to $44 per thousand. Ornamental or fancy brick sold for $125 per thousand. Glazed pressed brick and crystal faced brick sold for $250 per thousand.

side view of brick pressside view of brick press
Front views of Burkman's brick press used at the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company yard in Vallejo. U.S. Patent, 1889.

end view of brick pressend view of brick press
End views of Burkman's brick press used at the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company yard in Vallejo. U.S. Patent, 1889.

In the terra cotta department, clay artisans molded from Plaster-of-Paris the forms of brackets, cornices, sills, window jams, arches, columns, mantels, and other ornamental designs, including portraits familiar in history and fiction, and figures of famous people. These pieces of artwork were then sent to the muffle kiln to be fired. The first architectural terra cotta from this plant was shipped in 1890.

In September 1889, pressed brick were placed in the store windows of John Frey and Frank Baker in Vallejo, and they were soliciting for public opinions on their excellence as works of art. Local brick masons W.J. Costigan and O.H. Butler pronounced the product to be the finest they have ever seen or handled, and superior to any other brick ever put into buildings on this coast. In September 1889, one case of pressed brick was sent to the State Fair in Sacramento and one to the Mechanics' Fair in San Francisco. A Grand Silver Medal was won for their pressed brick at the Mechanics' Fair. In July 1894, their terra cotta exhibit at the Midwinter Fair in San Francisco won first place, beating stiff competition by Chicago firms.

In July 1889, orders came in from San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland. 40,000 special pattern of bricks were ordered for the Concordia Club building in San Francisco. Architect E.H. Fisher of Seattle placed a large order for pressed brick and terra cotta for the buildings he was building in Seattle. In October 1889, bricklayer O.H. Butler completed two brick chimneys on the new residence of J.H. O'Hara in Vallejo, the first to be used from the Union works in town. In 1890 and 1891, terra cotta was made for the Crocker Building on Market Street in San Francisco. In January 1891, face brick were made for the Mercantile Library Association building on Van Ness in San Francisco. In August 1891, terra cotta was made for the Church of Advent on Market Street in San Francisco. In 1891, pressed brick and terra cotta were sent to the Mills and Fair buildings in San Francisco. In December 1891, terra cotta pieces for St. John's Episcopal Church in San Francisco were made. In April 1892, 50,000 fancy bricks were sent to Honolulu. In September 1892, rock face, ornamental, and pressed brick were used in the Aden Brother's vault at the Masonic Cemetery in Vallejo. In November 1892, an order for material for the Olympic Club building in San Francisco was received. In 1893, pressed brick was furnished for the Aden Building on Virginia Street in Vallejo. In January 1894, the company's bid of $108,000 for terra cotta work on the San Francisco City Hall dome was rejected.

Troubles for the company began to appear in 1894, when the work force was reduced to only 40 workers, which indicated a decrease in orders. In January 1895, manager Bryant disappeared with some of the company funds as his creditors were after him. It was also reported that some employees at the brickyard were not paid, indicating hard times for the company. At the stockholders meeting held on April 21, 1896, the company decided to close the operations and sell the property because of 1,189 shares out of 1,389 shares of the capital stock were deemed outstanding. On July 8, 1896, the company sold the brick property to Peter McBean, of Gladding McBean and Company, for $10. The Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company filed a petition in dissolution with the San Francisco County Clerks office on September 2, 1896. The brickyard was closed and over 40 workers lost their jobs. Gladding McBean and Company, a large competitor in terra cotta and brick, did not reopen the brickyard. The equipment was moved to the Gladding McBean plant in Lincoln, California, and the buildings and kilns were eventually razed.

Aden vault
View of the Aden vault, designed by Alphonse Le Jeune of the Union Pressed
Brick and Terra Cotta Company, 1892, Sunrise Cemetery, Vallejo.

close up of Aden vault
Brickwork in the Aden vault, designed by Alphonse Le Jeune of the Union
Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, 1892, Sunrise Cemetery, Vallejo.


Union Pressed Brick

Smooth Face Pressed Brick

Smooth face pressed brick in this example are from the Sunrise Cemetery on Sacramento Street in Vallejo. Four brick vaults contain a variety of examples. The bricks are orange, red, buff, and brown with a glossy smooth surface. Weathering has pitted the surface and in extreme cases has removed large patches of the outer layer leaving a fine granular surface exposed. The brick has excellent form with straight and sharp edges and sharp corners. It is rare to find any scratches or marks on any of the surfaces of the brick. The interior is composed of 90 percent granular subrounded grains of orange-brown and tan shale, 5 percent subangular milky white quartz, and 3 percent subrounded dark red to brown iron oxide, all less than 1/16 inch across. This brick was made using the dry-pressed process from 1889 to 1896. The sizes of the bricks vary. Length 8 1/8 - 8 1/4, width 3 7/8 - 4 1/8, height 2 1/4 inches.

smooth face brick
View of the sides of the orange smooth face pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

interior of smooth face brick
View of the interior of the smooth face pressed brick made by
the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

smooth face brick
View of the side of the buff smooth face pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

smooth face brick
View of the side of the orange-red smooth face pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

smooth face brick
View of the side of the red smooth face pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

smooth face brick
Oblique view of the smooth face pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

Rock Face Pressed Brick

Rock face pressed brick in this example are from the Aden vault at the Sunrise Cemetery on Sacramento Street in Vallejo. The bricks are light to dark salmon, now coated with an orange-red paint, with a broken rough surface to simulate a rock surface. The rock surface may be on one or more sides of the brick and appears to be hand-broken after it was fired. The brick has excellent form with straight and sharp edges and sharp corners. The interior is similar to the first brick described above. This brick was made using the dry-pressed process from 1889 to 1896. The sizes of the bricks vary. Length 8 1/4 - 8 3/8, width 3 3/4 - 4 1/4, height 2 3/8 inches.

smooth face brick
View of the sides of the rock face pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

Smooth Watertable Cove Corner-Mold Pressed Brick

Smooth watertable cove corner-mold pressed brick are from Aden vault at the Sunrise Cemetery on Sacramento Street in Vallejo. The bricks are light to dark salmon, now coated with an orange-red paint, with a glossy smooth surface. The brick has excellent form with straight and sharp edges and sharp corners. It is rare to find any scratches or marks on any of the surfaces of the brick. Minor pits may be present. One long edge and one short edge of the brick have concave surfaces with 1 inch flat height on the sides, 2 3/4 inches flat width and 6 3/4 inches flat length on the face. This brick was made using the dry-pressed process from 1889 to 1896. Length 8 3/8, width 4 1/4, height 2 1/4 inches.

smooth watertable cove corner mold brick
Oblique view of the watertable cove corner-mold pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

smooth watertable cove corner mold brick
Oblique view of the watertable cove corner-mold pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

smooth watertable cove corner mold brick
View of the side of the watertable cove corner-mold pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

smooth watertable cove corner mold brick
View of the end of the watertable cove corner-mold pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

Smooth Bullnose Corner-Mold Pressed Brick

Smooth bullnose corner-mold pressed brick are from Aden vault at the Sunrise Cemetery on Sacramento Street in Vallejo. The bricks are light to dark salmon, now coated with an orange-red paint, with a glossy smooth surface. The brick has excellent form with straight and sharp edges and sharp corners. It is rare to find any scratches or marks on any of the surfaces of the brick. One long edge and one short edge of the brick has convex surfaces with 1 inch flat height on the sides, 2 3/4 inches flat width and 6 3/4 inches flat length on the face. This brick was made using the dry-pressed process from 1889 to 1896. Length 8 3/8, width 4 1/4, height 2 1/4 inches.

smooth bullnose corner mold brick
Oblique view of the bullnose corner-mold pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

smooth bullnose corner mold brick
View of the side of the bullnose corner-mold pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

smooth bullnose corner mold brick
View of the end of the bullnose corner-mold pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

Smooth Cove-Stretcher Pressed Brick

Smooth cove-stretcher pressed brick are from Aden vault at the Sunrise Cemetery on Sacramento Street in Vallejo. The bricks are light to dark salmon, now coated with an orange-red paint, with a glossy smooth surface. The brick has excellent form with straight and sharp edges and sharp corners. It is rare to find any scratches or marks on any of the surfaces of the brick. One long edge of the brick has a concave surface with 1 inch height on the sides and 2 3/4 inches flat width on the face. This brick was made using the dry-pressed process from 1889 to 1896. Length 8 3/8, width 4 1/4, height 2 1/4 inches.

smooth cove-stretcher pressed brick
View of the side of the cove-stretcher pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

Smooth Half-Round Stretcher Pressed Brick

Smooth half-round stretcher pressed brick are from Aden vault at the Sunrise Cemetery on Sacramento Street in Vallejo. The bricks are light to dark salmon, now coated with an orange-red paint, with a glossy smooth surface. The brick has excellent form with straight and sharp edges and sharp corners. It is rare to find any scratches or marks on any of the surfaces of the brick. One long side of the brick has a convex surface with a thin flat margin along the top and bottom. This brick was made using the dry-pressed process from 1889 to 1896. Length 9 1/2, width 5, height 2 1/4 inches.

smooth half-round stretcher pressed brick
View of the end of the smooth half-round stretcher pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

Smooth Cove Header-Mold Pressed Brick

Smooth cove header-mold pressed brick are from Aden vault at the Sunrise Cemetery on Sacramento Street in Vallejo. The bricks are light to dark salmon, now coated with an orange-red paint, with a glossy smooth surface. The brick has excellent form with straight and sharp edges and sharp corners. It is rare to find any scratches or marks on any of the surfaces of the brick. One short edge of the brick has a concave surface with a 3/4 inch flat margin on the bottom. This brick was made using the dry-pressed process from 1889 to 1896. Length unknown, width 4 1/2, height 2 5/8 inches.

smooth cove header-mold pressed brick
View of the end of the smooth cove header-mold pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

Smooth Bullnose Rock-Texture Pressed Brick

Smooth bullnose rock-texture pressed brick are from Aden vault at the Sunrise Cemetery on Sacramento Street in Vallejo. The bricks are light to dark salmon, now coated with an orange-red paint, with a glossy smooth surface. The brick has excellent form with straight and sharp edges and sharp corners. It is rare to find any scratches or marks on any of the surfaces of the brick. One end of the brick has a convex surface with a 1/2 inch flat margin along the bottom. This brick was made using the dry-pressed process from 1889 to 1896. Length 9 1/2, width 4, height 2 3/8 inches.

smooth bullnose rock-texture pressed brick
View of the end of the smooth bullnose rock-texture pressed brick, with rock face texture
on the side, made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

Smooth Arch Pressed Brick

Smooth arch pressed brick are from the Joseph and Mary Burtin vault at the Sunrise Cemetery on Sacramento Street in Vallejo. The bricks are light to dark salmon, now coated with an orange-red paint, with a glossy smooth surface. The brick has excellent form with straight and sharp edges and sharp corners. It is rare to find any scratches or marks on any of the surfaces of the brick. This brick was made using the dry-pressed process from 1889 to 1896. Length 8 1/2, width 4 1/8, height 2 to 2 3/8.

smooth arch pressed brick
View of the end of the smooth arch pressed brick made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, Vallejo.

References

Appendix to the Journal of the Senate and Assembly of the Twenty-Ninth Session of the Legislature of the State of California, v. 8, State Printing Office, Sacramento, 1891.

Daily Alta California, Builders' Contracts, August 29, 1890.

Daily Alta California, Builders' Contracts, December 24, 1890.

Daily Alta California, New Incorporations, March 13, 1889.

Fraser, J.P. Munro, History of Solano County, Wood, Alley and Company, East Oakland, San Francisco, 1879.

Kern, James E., Executive Director of the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum, personal communications, 2013.

Lucy, Thomas, Vallejo's Brick, Tile, and Terra Cotta Industries, Solano Historian, December 1988.

Pacific Rural Press, California Pressed Brick, July 13, 1889.

Pacific Rural Press, Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Co., August 31, 1889.

Pidgeon, E., written communications, 2012.

San Francisco Call, Bids On the Dome, January 30, 1894.

San Francisco Call, Bud To Be Host, January 13, 1895.

San Francisco Call, Builders' Contracts, August 21, 1891.

San Francisco Call, Builders' Contracts, February 26, 1891.

San Francisco Call, February 26, 1909.

San Francisco Call, Harbor Front, May 13, 1891.

San Francisco Call, Mechanics' Fair, October 27, 1890.

San Francisco Call, Miss Lena Lux's Choice, April 12, 1895.

San Francisco Call, September 2, 1896.

San Francisco Directory, 1890.

San Francisco Examiner, Architectural Evolution, January 10, 1892.

Sanborn Map Company, Vallejo, Cal., 1889.

Sanborn Map Company, Vallejo, Cal., 1901.

Solano County Deeds, City of Vallejo to Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, 1889, Book 103, p. 353.

Solano County Deeds, Frisbie, L.C. to Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, 1890, Book 122, p. 414.

Solano County Deeds, Gladding McBean and Company to City of Vallejo, 1912, Book 201, p. 192.

Solano County Deeds, Hilborn, S.G. to Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, 1896, Book 125, p. 473.

Solano County Deeds, McPike, A.J. to Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, 1889, Book 104, p. 101.

Solano County Deeds, Roynton, Winefied to Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, 1890, Book 122, p. 418.

Solano County Deeds, Stillwagon, Maria L. to Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, 1890, Book 122, p. 416.

Solano County Deeds, Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company to Peter McG. McBean, 1896, Book 126, p. 53.

Solano County Deeds, Vallejo Land and Improvement Company to Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, 1889, Book 102, p. 431.

Solano County Deeds, Vallejo Savings and Loan Bank to Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, 1889, Book 102, p. 436.

Solano County Deeds, Wilson, E.J. to Union Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, 1889, Book 102, p. 435.

Sunrise Cemetery staff, Vallejo, personal communications, 2013.

U.S. Patent Office, Walfrid Burkman, of Los Angeles, California, Assignor to Charles H. Frost, of Same Place, Brick-Machine, Letters Patent No. 406,562, July 9, 1889.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, 72,000 Feet of Terra-Cotta, September 19, 1889.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, A Decision,April 19 1894.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, August 5, 1891.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, December 23, 1893.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, Fame Spreading, April 23, 1892.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, February 9, 1893.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, Ground Broken, March 26, 1889.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, January 7, 1895.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, Long Wharf, September 19, 1889.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, March 13, 1894.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, November 29, 1892.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, October 10, 1892.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, Our Brick Works, June 29, 1889.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, Pressed Brick Industry, March 15, 1889.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, Resigned, May 8, 1893.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, September 30, 1892.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, Specimen Bricks, September 5, 1889.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, Steadily Working, June 3, 1891.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, Terra Cotta, August 23, 1889.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, Terra Cotta, January 16, 1889.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, Terra Cotta Works, July 10, 1889.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, The Aden's Vault, September 17, 1892.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, The First Award, July 11, 1894.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, The Terra Cotta Works, August 30, 1889.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, The Terra Cotta Works, March 11, 1889.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, Will Come Back, February 2, 1895.

Vallejo Daily Chronicle, Vallejo Brick at the Fairs, September 9, 1889.

Vallejo Times Herald, Vallejo's Brick and Terra Cotta Industry, December 24, 1891.

Copyright 2013 Dan Mosier

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