California brick

Thomas Whaley


Thomas Whaley Thomas Whaley, a native of New York City, was 25 years old when he joined the gold rush for California in 1849. In 1851, he arrived in San Diego and, in partnership with Lewis A. Franklin, opened a store called Tienda California. In 1853 he returned to New York to marry Miss Anna E. Lannay, and brought his new bride back to his home in San Diego. In 1856, Whaley made bricks for his new home and store building on San Diego Avenue. The surface clay for the brick was probably obtained on his property near the store. The exact location of his brick kiln is unknown.

Whaley House at Old Town San Diego From surviving Whaley bricks, it can be seen that the soft-mud process was used. The clay was thrown into wooden molds and struck with sand to form bricks. The bricks were probably dried in the sun before they were fired to hard bricks in the field kiln. The kiln was probably fueled by wood.

In 1859, Whaley left San Diego to find employment elsewhere. He returned to San Diego in 1879, and embarked in the real estate business and politics. He passed away in 1890.

Whaley's home and store building still stands in Old Town San Diego and is nationally famous for being one of the most haunted homes in the country. The building is a California historic landmark and is believed to be the oldest surviving clay-fired brick building in San Diego.

Whaley Brick

Common brick is light orange to orange-red, mostly uniform in color. The surface is sand-struck and contains minor pits up to 1/2 inch across. The sides are uneven with irregular, dull edges and dull or broken corners. Some have irregular lip up to 1/2 inch thick around the top edges. Transverse grooves occur on the sides and ends. The bottom face is unmarked and have minor pits. The top face is pitted and displays angled longitudinal strike marks. The interior has a dark orange clay body full of sand grains made of mostly subangular white quartz up to 1/4 inch across. The sandy clasts range from 10 to 50 percent of the clay body. This brick was made in 1856. This brick was made using the soft-mud process. Length 8 1/4, width 3 3/4 - 4 1/4, height 2 1/4 inches.

Whaley common brick
View of the side of the Whaley common brick in the Whaley House.

Whaley common brick
View of the side and end of the Whaley common brick in the Whaley House.

Whaley common brick
View of the face of the Whaley common brick in the Whaley House fireplace.

Whaley common brick interior
View of the interior of the Whaley common brick.


Save Our Heritage Organization, Thomas Whaley House exhibits, Old Town San Diego, 2007.

Smythe, William E., History of San Diego, 1542-1908: An account of the rise and progress of the pioneer settlement on the Pacific coast of the United States, History Company, San Diego, 1908, p. 290-292.

Copyright 2007 Dan Mosier

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