Olive Through the Ages

Brick Yard and Tile Company: Notes and Remembrances

Brick Yard & Tile Co. | First Natl. Bank of Olive | Olive Garage | Olive Hotel and Motel | Olive Mill
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Remembrances of the 'Brick Yard' during the 1960s - by Gordon McClelland

These remembrances were compiled from several email messages Gordon McClelland sent me describing the "Brick Yard" he remembered as a youth during the 1960s. My comments appear in non-italicized text or between brackets [ ]. - Daralee

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As a kid I was skateboarding down Ocean View street nearly every afternoon and hanging out around what we called the "Brick Yard." They were making red clay pipes and red tile for roofs. The pipes and tiles were stacked high and there were trucks and other equipment sitting around. Everything was covered with red clay dust. There were some old, dilapidated buildings and large pepper trees surrounding the place. I'm not absolutely sure, but I think I recall seeing a sign at the Brick Yard that said "Mission Clay Company." [Click/tap here to view a 1967 image of the Mission Clay Products Company sign Gordon saw.]

I loved that huge, round furnace they used for firing the clay pipes and roof tiles. The kiln was made of reddish-brown brick and had slit type openings in the side. When the furnace was on at night you could see the intense fire glowing through the slit openings.

Mission Clay Products 1967  
1967 photo of the brick yard.  
   

After seeing the 1967 image at left (click/tap here to view it larger), Gordon had additional comments about the brick yard site:

The round structure on the left side of photo is the kiln I wrote you about. It’s hard to see the vent holes in this photo, but when the kiln was lit up at night you could see the glow of the raging fire through those holes. It also had a sort of roaring sound, as I recall. You can see a forklift in the picture which gives you an idea of the size of the main, round kiln.

The large building next to the kiln looks to be of a tin construction, which was inexpensive to make and popular after the WWII era. Seems to me they processed and formed the clay in that building. You can see they built a makeshift, covered patio type of structure to have a sort of roof over the area between the tin building and the round kiln. They undoubtedly loaded and unloaded the kiln from that side.

You can also see the pipes stacked up, as I mentioned, but at the time this photo was taken, I guess they didn’t have the roof tiles on hand. At one time, these too would have been stacked up on wooden pallets in the dirt lot areas you see.

Scott FitzGerald etching  
Etching by Scott FitzGerald of an older type of dry kiln at the brick yard  
   

There were small kilns located on the left hand side of this photo near the back of the huge, round kiln. The small ones in Scott FitzGerald’s etching were nowhere near as large as the round kiln. [Click/tap here to view a larger image of this etching of the kiln.]

If you look at Scott’s etching, there are two structures, both made of brownish-red brick. To the right is an old kiln with an arch top opening. To the left is a squarish, brick structure with a vent in the side and a smokestack on top. This would likely be some type of heating device, probably fueled with oil. The poles and bars around the kiln were used for support, although by the time Scott got there they were obviously falling apart.

If you look again at the 1967 photo, towards the top right corner next to the Mission Clay office building, I think the smokestack you see is the same one in Scott’s etching. The position of this kiln lines up with the Sanborn Map's notation of where the old kilns were located. [Click/tap here to see an image of the 1926 Sanborn Map.]

Anyway, the round kiln was the only one I recall being in use when I was a kid. It’s possible the smaller kilns were still being used, but I just remember them looking like old, broken down structures, pretty much what you see in Scott's etching.

Crandall Norton watercolor  
Watercolor by Crandall Norton of brick yard structures circa 1950  
   

If you look at the Crandall Norton watercolor [click/tap here to view a larger image] you will see a flimsy structure of tin and wood which was gone when the 1967 photo was taken. By the way the artist talked, that structure was located about where the large, white, tin building is in the photo. I never saw that structure, but then the watercolor was painted before I was even born.

Norton couldn’t recall the round kiln, so I never knew when it was built. It doesn’t look like it was around in 1926 when the Sanborn Map was made. From the way that map looks, they might have been sun-drying a lot of the tiles and bricks as opposed to firing them?


Gordon and I later analyzed the U.S. Geological Survey images from 1947 and 1955. Based on these aerial maps and a 1952 aerial view of the region I generated at HistoricAerials.com, we learned the large, circular kiln most likely appeared some time after 1952 but before 1955.

If the 1967 photo would have continued to show more of the area to the left side of the kiln, you would have seen some large pepper trees and the dirty, old pond with a broken-down wooden dock going out into the water about five feet. The pond (reservoir) had slimy sides which made it nearly impossible to get out if you jumped in the water. We had a raft we took out to the pond on occasion.

When this area was undeveloped, we would ride our bikes up and down the rolling dirt hills on the other side of the pond where large trees gave shade to some areas. When they made it all into a park, they pretty much left the hills and valleys the same and just planted more trees and grass. In my opinion, that [Eisenhower] park area of Olive is much nicer than it was back then.

          

Notes about the Brick Yard and adobe structures in the area

Gordon says the dirt and pond water were undoubtedly used to create the clay bricks, pipes and tiles. The dirt in this region and many parts of Southern California is very hard and clay-like, which is why many adobe structures were built here in earlier times.

Since Mission Clay Products Company was a significant business entity in the Southland for many decades, it is likely several of the structures in Olive that appeared in the 1920s up until the 1960s were made of bricks and tiles manufactured by the Company.

The Gelker Adobe at 16741 Buena Vista Street and Ocean View Avenue was constructed of adobe brick with a tile roof in 1935. (Click/tap here to see an image of this home under construction in 1935, and click/tap here to see an image of this home in 2009.)

Gordon writes in one of his earlier emails: A person you need to talk to is Bruce Gelker [rancher Ben Gelker's son]. He is older than me and grew up in Olive. He built and owned the Saddleback Inn in Santa Ana. In the late 1960s and early 1970s we talked a number of times and shared stories about Olive and the Brick Yard. At some point he purchased the property on the corner of Lincoln and Tustin. His original plan was to design a commercial plaza which included a round brick building and kept to the basic layout of the old brick yard. As you know, it didn't turn out that way, but the plaza was called the Brick Yard in remembrance of the place.

The Olive Volunteer Fire Department building, constructed circa 1946, was also made of adobe brick with a tile roof. This structure stood near the northwestern corner of Orange-Olive Road and Lincoln Avenue until 1997 when the fire department closed and the building was razed to make room for the construction of condominums. (Click/tap here to view an image of the Fire Department building in 1982.)

To date, many questions about the once thriving brick yard—that has long since disappeared—remain unanswered.

 

          

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