Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Simons Brick Co. and Early L.A. Brickyards

Simons Brick Company

Simons Brick Company had a long, successful operation in Southern California.  Their brickwork is still visible today in many pubic and commercial buildings and private residences.  The social history of the brick company emerged a decade or so ago reflected in a fictionalized account, as well as several history books (click on tab above About L.A.-Books, Journals and Websites).

The earliest reference to the Simons family in the Los Angeles Times appeared on April, 22, 1890 regarding R.G. Simons' bid for sewer work.  Which R.G. it was in the article is unclear, because around that time, there were two Reuben Simons families living in Los Angeles County, both Englishmen who settled in Sidney, Iowa.  The two Reubens were probably cousins.  The elder Reuben Garrett Simons was about 53 years of age and was the head of the family that developed Simons Brick Company.  The younger Reuben Simons was about 34 years old, also married with children.  [A reader has clarified in a comment below that Reuben the elder was probably the uncle to Reuben the younger.]


The younger Reuben, according to various publication ads and newspaper articles, operated various brick businesses: Capitol Steam Brick Works (1891, partnering with Edward Simons; Reuben sold his share to purchase 10 acres of land at 7th St, near and west of Boyle Avenue); City Brick Company (1896); Seventh-Street Brick Works (ca. 1898-ca. 1910). An article in 1916, however, mentions him as president of the Standard Brick Co. Further elaborated in 1926-27, the Standard Brick Co. was described as being in business since 1888. 


The younger Reuben Simons died in 1922, survived by sons John V., Ralph, Harold W., and daughters Ruby, June, and Margaret Simons and daughter Mrs. L.O. Hopkins.  The elder Reuben Garrett Simons died in 1910.  His surviving sons were Elmer, Joseph and Walter R.


The first newspaper articles found in the Los Angeles Times mentioning the Simons company was in 1892, referring to the Simons Brick and Contract Company in Pasadena.  An 1895 article refers to their office at South Fair Oaks Avenue.  Articles indicate by 1902-03 "Simons Brick Company" was stirring up activity by Boyle Avenue, denoting No. 825 Boyle Avenue near 8th Street.  By this time both locations were well-known. (It may have been the younger Reuben Simons who tipped off their cousins about available land in the Boyle neighborhood.)


The course of my research included consulting a comprehensive web resouce called California Bricks (see the bibliography page above About L.A..)  California Bricks (for which its research is based on many historic publications), states that the Simons company started its business under the name Pacific Brick Company in 1896.  This data conflicts with the above newspaper information.


At least by 1902, son Joseph was active in the Boyle Heights yard, as well as developing an Inglewood yard. Joseph became involved in a fierce bidding competition to supply bricks from the Boyle Heights operation for a Los Angeles sewer system.  It may have been Joseph to spearhead a move to purchase 30 acres of land near Santa Monica in December, 1904.  (An article in February of the following year stated that the Santa Monica yard would produce bricks for the L.A. outfall sewer.)  In ensuing years, Joseph switched from brick works to citrus-growing.

At least by 1904, sibling Walter Robey Simons also looked elsewhere for brick-worthy soil and founded the "plant number 3" in the outskirts of town, near Montebello.  It is this brickyard that has left an enduring legacy of the Simons brand.  While the labor force in Boyle Heights and Pasadena were primarily "Chinamen" or "Negroes", Plant Number 3 began as a self-contained town of imported workers from Mexico.  Walter encouraged the growth of familial labor by rewarding parents of newborn with gold coins.  Walter marketed his products through ads, premium giveaways like a shoe brush imprinted with the company name, and he was active in trade associations.  His marketing ingenuity included promoting Plant Number 3 as the largest brickyard in the world.

For more information and photographs, visit the Simons Brick Co. Album page above

Early Los Angeles Brickyards

Before the close of the 19th century, the brickmakers in Los Angeles were well-established and plentiful.


  • Edward Simons, of Capitol Steam Machine Brick Works, who was working his trade in the city by 1883, was also the preceding proprietor of City Brick Company until 1891.  By around 1910, Edward (who was most likely a Simons relative) had an extensive plant in Chavez Canyon.


  • Thomas Goss and A.A. Hubbard took over City Brick Company, and by around 1910 had yards in Chavez Ravine and Mission Road. 


  • Henry C. Jensen, of Rosedale Brick Company, operated a Solano yard, Bishop Street near the Catholic Cemetery, as well as the Rosedale yard, Western Avenue between Pico and Washington.


  • D.J. Houlahan, of Inglewood Brick Yard, was mentioned in the Los Angeles Times (4/3/1898).


  • All of the above brickmakers maintained a central office at 125 W. 2nd Street.  All were producing machine-made bricks, except for Jensen's.  The machine-operated brickworks employed an all white labor force (the newspaper explained that machine labor required the intelligence of white workers.)


  • Other smaller machine-made brick yards in 1898 were C. Paye on Stevenson Avenue and the defunct Monarch Brick Company.


  • Another small brickmaker was the pioneering T.F. Joyce, of Los Angeles Brick Works (circa 1910), had been established in the area since 1882. An ad mentions he was the first to make a machine brick, and also to build the first continuous kiln used in the city.


  • Hand-made brickworks in 1898 were the Jenson company listed above; P. Davin on Boyle Heights, J.M. Gamble at Garvanza, Kavanaugh of West Washington Street, and Shrader at West Pico Street. The hand-craftsmanship was supported by a mostly Chinese work force. 
Update:  A blog reader provided some additional information on local brickmakers:

There were three in the area now known as Chinatown:


Jean Bernard’s brick operation at present location of Broadway and Bernard


Joseph Mullaly’s brickyard at Buena Vista (Broadway) and College.  Bricks were used to build 1855 Eagle Mills, a flour mill which became Capitol Milling Co in the 1880’s; the structure(s) still stand at N. Spring St.  For more information go to California Bricks


Los Angeles Pressed Brick Co, at Cleveland and College.   For more information go to California Bricks


Early 20th Century Brickmakers

The Davidson Brick Company operated in Monterey Park, with their offices at 2601 W. Floral Drive.  (Earlier references in the years 1929-30 indicate an address at 4701 Floral Drive, Belvedere Gardens.) Nathan Davidson was a Russian Jew who came to Los Angeles around 1915 at the age of 40.  He bought the brickwork operation at Monterey Pass Road from the Metallic Brick Company, which had been in operation from 1916 to 1920.  Metallic's operation was on 90 acres of land at the east end of a low range of hills. 

Davidson's company was incorporated in 1928.  He managed to build a successful business alongside the years of Simons Brick Company's reign and continuing after Simons closed in 1952.  Although Nathan passed away in 1957, the company continued until land developers purchased the company in 1982.  The new owners were primarily interested in the land, which eventually became Los Angeles Corporate Center.  A new chapter in the Davidson company history was written when the company was bought by its employees and moved to the city of Perris.

Another brickyard in the hills of Monterey Park was owned by the Higgins Brick & Tile Company.  The city of Monterey Park engineered a land deal in 1973 and acquired the 22 1/2-acre property at 4700 Ramona Boulevard, adjacent to the Monterey Park golf course and the intersection of the San Bernardino-Long Beach freeways.

Higgins Brick & Tile dates back to at least 1938.  The Los Angeles Times cover many activities of the company's office in Torrance at 174th Street near Van Ness because they constructed a community room which was the center of many community club activities, parties and political events from the late 1950s until 1977 when portions of the land turned into a planned single-family housing development.

5 comments:

  1. i believe walter f malone was the superintindent of the brick yard and started a trucking company which lasted until around 1950. i know this as the operating persons were my grandparents. i never knew brickyard but my mother constantly talked about it. from understanding it was a 'company store' operation with all the shortcomings involved. somewhat like sharecroppers in southern united states. totally anti union and very paternalistic. paul quinlan

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  2. I lived in Simons "El Hoyo" from my birth in 1936 to 1952 when the brickyard was closed.

    Frank "kiki" Baltazar

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  3. It appears that Edward Simons was the father of Reuben Simons the younger. Their family and that of Reuben the elder lived four houses apart in Hamburg, IA in 1870. Edward was probably Reuben the elder's younger brother, making Reuben the younger a nephew.

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  4. Thank you for the info! Much appreciated - and thanks for reading my blog entries!

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  5. I would like to clarify the apparent conflict with the names of Simons brickyard in Pasadena cited in paragraph six above. The elder Reuben Simons started his brickyard in Pasadena shortly after his arrival in 1886. The yard was informally called the Simons Brickyard or the Simons Brick and Contract Company; I have not been able to verify that the latter name was officially incorporated. It wasn't until Reuben's older sons, Joseph and Elmer, were able to run their father's brick business that they officially organized in 1896 the Pacific Brick Company, of which Joseph was president and Elmer was secretary. Reuben was about 60 years of age then and was phasing into retirement. The Pacific Brick Company operated the Pasadena yard, as well as the Boyle Heights, Inglewood, and Santa Monica yards, until 1900, when the Simons Brick Company was incorporated to operate these and other yards. Further information on these brickyards can be found at my California Bricks website at calbricks.nefirms.com. Dan L. Mosier.

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