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Wilson, Lyon Construction Company

History


Wilson, Lyon Construction Co. brickyard site
View of the Wilson, Lyon Construction Company brickyard site, Potrero. Photo by Dan Mosier.

The Wilson, Lyon & Company was established in San Francisco, California, in early 1903 by Harry Wilson as president, Harry C. Lyon as secretary, and Hugh S. Dimond as treasurer. Their office was located at 220 Market Street in San Francisco. Initially, this company was formed to construct railways and deal in railway equipment and iron and steel rolling mill products. They had a contract to construct the Kona-Kau Railroad in Hawaii, but that work fell through. It was then that the construction company decided to focus on local building projects and produce its own brick and stone. The company name was changed to The Wilson, Lyon Construction Company and it was incorporated in June 1904 with a capital stock of $750,000. By incorporating they took over the interests of the Wilson, Lyon & Company, the East Shore Brick Company, and the Madera Granite Company.

In November 1903, the Wilson, Lyon Construction Company purchased two blocks of land from the Richmond Land Company at 17th Street and Chanslor Avenue, near the junction of the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads, in Richmond, Contra Costa County, California. Here they erected a stoneyard for the production of large stone building blocks. The stones came from the Franklin Tunnel on the Santa Fe line, 15 miles to the east near Martinez, and from the McClellan granite quarry in Madera County, California. This stoneyard employed 100 men.

Next, they purchased property on the bay north of Molate Point in Richmond, Contra Costa County, for their new brickyard. Here they mined a black shale bed and surficial material. The brick plant, which covered four acres, was constructed in April 1904, with modern machinery from the American Clay Manufacturing Company, a drier of large capacity, and oil-burning Hoffman kilns. The plant capacity was 75,000 brick per day. The plant was operated by steam power. It was reported that 50 to 100 men were to be employed with C. J. Dunton as the plant manager. This brickyard was located next to the Eastshore railroad with connections to both the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads. From the bricks known to be made by the Wilson, Lyon Construction Company, they may have used an American brick-pressing machine to make red pressed bricks and an extruder to make wire-cut bricks. The bricks were of good quality. Although the company had planned to make vitrified brick, that never happened.

Wilson, Lyon Construction Co. brick wall at Winehaven
View of the sides of the Wilson, Lyon Construction Company brick in the wall at Winehaven.

Their brick went into a seven-story brick apartment building on Stockton Street in San Francisco in 1904. They also won the bid for construction of the new seven-story brick German (Franklin) Hospital on Noe Street in San Francisco, in 1905, which provides the example of their brick shown below. That year also, they furnished granite from their stoneyard for the new United States Custom House building on the former post office site at Washington and Battery streets in San Francisco. Other jobs included the courthouse in Eureka, Fort Baker, and an addition for the Hale Brothers Department Store on Market Street in San Francisco. The wall along the road at Winehaven is made of their wire-cut brick.

However, many of their bids that had been submitted for jobs throughout northern California were not accepted and the company was losing money. As a result, the company was having difficulty in securing credit. By January 1906, the company was over $300,000 in debt and was being pressed by creditors for payments. On January 13, 1906, the Wilson, Lyon Construction Company announced that it had failed. The creditors settled for 55 cents on the dollar.

Apparently in 1904, Harry Lyon had left the company to work for the California Powder Works. Hugh Dimond brought in his brother Dennis Dimond to help manage the company's finances, but, it was said, that because of their lack of business experience, the company had failed. The Wilson, Lyon Construction Company brickyard and stoneyard were closed and eventually razed. Harry Wilson apparently left San Francisco after the failure and what became of him is unknown. Three months later, the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 hit San Francisco.

Wilson, Lyon Construction Company Brick

Pressed Brick

The pressed brick is dark red to reddish brown, mostly uniform in color. The form is straight and even with dull edges and corners. Transverse striations are seen on the sides along with stack indentations. The bottom face is smooth, even, and flat. The top face is pitted with a transverse strike direction. The interior contains 10 percent subangular white quartz, white clay altered granitic rock, clay altered feldspar, gray sandstone, red and yellow chert, black shale, all up to 1/2 inch across, in a porous red sandy clay body. This brick was probably made in a brick press using the soft mud process. Length 8, width 3 3/4, height 2 1/4 inches.

Wilson, Lyon Construction Co. brick
View of the side of the Wilson, Lyon Construction Company pressed brick.

Wilson, Lyon Construction Co. brick
View of the bottom face of the Wilson, Lyon Construction Company pressed brick.

Wilson, Lyon Construction Co. brick
View of the top face of the Wilson, Lyon Construction Company pressed brick.

Wilson, Lyon Construction Co. brick interior
View of the interior of the Wilson, Lyon Construction Company pressed brick.

Wire-Cut Brick

The wire-cut brick ranges from orange to dark red, and is mostly uniform in color. The form is straight and even with sharp edges and corners (when not broken). The short edges are smooth and rounded. Transverse striations are seen on the sides along with stack indentations and faint yellow flash. The sides are smooth, but often highly crackled or with small cracks. The faces display curved wire-cut grooves on a velour texture. Internal clasts are exposed on the faces, consisting of 20 percent subangular red or black shale, yellow chert, gray sandstone, and white quartz, ranging up to 1/4 inch across, in a granular orange-red sandy clay body. This brick was probably made by the stiff mud process, extruded, and wire-cut. Length 8 1/4, width 4, height 2 3/8 inches.

Wilson, Lyon Construction Co. wire-cut brick
View of the side of the Wilson, Lyon Construction Company wire-cut brick, showing small cracks and faint yellow flash.

Wilson, Lyon Construction Co. wire-cut brick
View of the side of the Wilson, Lyon Construction Company wire-cut brick, show a high crackled surface.

Wilson, Lyon Construction Co. wire-cut brick
View of the face of the Wilson, Lyon Construction Company wire-cut brick.

Wilson, Lyon Construction Co. wire-cut brick interior
View of the interior of the Wilson, Lyon Construction Company wire-cut brick.

Microscopic view of the interior clay body of the Wilson, Lyon Construction Co. wire-cut brick (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).
Microscopic view of the interior clay body of the Wilson, Lyon
Construction Co. wire-cut brick (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).

References

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

Brick and Clay Record, v. 20, no. 3, 1904, p. 150.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 20, no. 5, 1904, p. 255.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 20, no. 6, 1904, p. 338.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 22, no. 2, 1905, p. 107.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 22, no. 4, 1905, p. 236.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 22, no. 5, 1905, p. 260.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 23, no. 5, 1905, p. 162.

Oakland Tribune, Company Lands A Big Contract, August 24, 1905.

Oakland Tribune, Construction Company Fails, January 17, 1906.

San Francisco Bulletin, January 13, 1906.

San Francisco Call, Coeper Interests Change Hands, February 22, 1903.

San Francisco Call, Hawaiian Railway Bonds Are Apparently Unsalable, September 2, 1904.

San Francisco Call, April 20, 1905.

San Francisco Call, February 26, 1906.

San Francisco Call, November 6, 1903.

San Francisco Call, October 17, 1904.

San Francisco City Directories, 1903-1906.


Copyright 2010 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.