Simons Brick Company, Plant Number 3, Simons, Commerce
In 1886, Reuben and Melissa Simons and their six children left Hamburg, Iowa, for Los Angeles, California. Reuben was a brickmaker, born in England in 1836, and had immigrated to the United States in 1866. Reuben and his teenage sons, Joseph, Elmer, and Walter, located a clay deposit in the southern part of Pasadena, where they opened their first brickyard. In 1900, the Simons Brick Company was incorporated with a capital stock of $100,000. Joseph Simons was president, Elmer Simons was secretary and treasurer, and Walter R. Simons was vice-president. The Pasadena brickyard was a great success and soon the Simons sons were eager to expand their brick manufacturing business to other areas.
Aerial view of the large brickyard of the Simons Brick Company at Simons, California.
Vail Avenue runs right to left through the center of the view. The brick plant is along the
Santa Fe Railway, which runs diagonally across the right half of the view. Simons residential
units are in the foreground and back behind the plant. From Brick and Clay Record, 1924.
In 1905, they found a good deposit of clay on the north side of the Santa Fe Railroad in the present city of Commerce, 7 miles south of Los Angeles. They purchased 273 acres of land for their new clay pit and brick plant, which was named the Number 3 Yard. The yard was on the northeast corner of the intersection of Vail Avenue and the Santa Fe Railroad. The plant office was on Rivera Street. The company office was in the Stimson Building at 125 West Third Street in Los Angeles.
Clay was taken from a superficial bed averaging 16 to 18 feet in thickness overlying a bed of fine sand. The clay was a brown silty alluvial clay mixed with sand. It was mined by steam and diesel shovels and hauled to the plant in six-yard dumper cars pulled by a gasoline locomotive on a narrow-gauge railroad. There were three clay pits, each about 1,500 feet long and 500 feet wide, northwest of the brick plant.
The plant consisted of dry-pan grinders, 16 soft-mud pugmills and Potts brick presses. The bricks were dried from 7 to 10 days in the drying sheds. There were 20 field kilns used to fire the bricks. Oil was later replaced by gas for fuel. Two sizes of kilns were built depending upon demand for brick. An 18-arch kiln held 756,000 brick, and a 30-arch kiln held 1,250,000 brick. The total capacity of the plant was 650,000 brick per day. Common red brick in several sizes and oversized blocks were the main products of this plant. They also made pressed, ruffled, face, Colonial face bricks, clay slabs, and hollow tile blocks. Starting in 1908, bituminized paving blocks from a plant erected on the east side of the brick plant were made here by the Bituminized Brick and Tile Company, which was a subsidiary of the Simons Brick Company.
Initially, the brick was shipped out by rail on the Santa Fe Railroad. However, car shortage problems in 1923, forced the company to purchase 16 trucks to haul the brick directly to the job sites. Their truck fleet had increased to 28 by 1925. A machine shop was built to maintain the fleet of trucks.
View of the western half of the Simons brickyard at Simons. From Farrar, 1925.
View of the eastern half of the Simons brickyard at Simons. From Farrar, 1925.
The company employed over 600 workers, with a monthly payroll of $75,000. When several of the workers asked for local living arrangements, the company erected two large boarding houses for the single men and two- to four-bedroom homes for families, all rented at $1 a day. Lots were purchased on the east side of the brick plant for the growing town. The town of Simons had its own lighting system, water works, and sewage disposal system. There was a depot, a general store, a postoffice, a church, a grade school with five teachers, a motion picture and amusement hall, an auto repair garage, a recreation field, and a handball court. The Simons baseball team, composed entirely of employees, was a member of a regular league. They even had their own marching band. By 1925, the town of Simons grew to a population of about 1,600, mostly of Mexican immigrants. The company also offered its regular employees group life insurance for the benefit of their dependents in the event of their death. The workers were treated well and were satisfied with their working environment, as reflected by the low employee turnover rate, which was less than two percent per month. "If there ever was an industrial Utopia it is Simons," wrote the Brick and Clay Record.
Simons Brick Company baseball team in 1915. Carl Reich is sitting on
the bottom right next to the bat boy. Photo Courtesy of Ted Reich.
In 1913, Elmer Simons, a native of Iowa, died at the age of 44 years. In 1916, Walter Simons bought all of the interest in the brick company from his brother Joseph Simons, who decided to embark in the citrus business in San Bernardino County. The company officers in 1928 were Walter Simons as president, Robert P. Isitt as vice-president, H. B. Howeth as secretary, and J. T. Crampton as treasurer. In 1924 and 1925, Walter was elected the president of the California Common Brick Manufacturers' Association. Walter and his wife Edna and daughter Drusilla continued to live at the Simons residence on East California Avenue in Pasadena.
The Simons brickyard was a major supplier of bricks for the southern California region. The hand-molded bricks were stamped with "SIMONS" in raised letters set in a rectangular frog. But not every brick was marked. In 1906, Simons shipped 3,800 tons of brick to San Francisco to help in the rebuilding effort after the earthquake and fire.
In 1931, the company came out with a new brick called "Sibrico", which was a super-adhesive clay slab measuring 8 1/4 inches on each side, with corrugated edges and a fleur-de-lis pattern on one side. The company's office building was constructed with this building unit.
Alfonso Lemus, a former resident of Simons, brought to my attention a decorative redware tile that may be an smaller example of the Sibrico slab (see example below). The tile is a bisque redware with a Spanish trefoil motif measuring 4 3/4 inches square and 3/4 inch thick. The style of the tile indicates that it could have been made during the 1930s. Lemus worked one summer at the brickyard hauling empty pallets from the drying rack back to the molders. He stacked 6 or 7 horizontal rows of pallets on a cart, which was pulled by a mule. "It was back-breaking work for a 16 year old," said Lemus.
In 1933, the company manufactured an earthquake-proof brick which they called the "reinforced groutlock brick." These were hollow tile blocks tied together with steel bars and concrete grout. The vertical steel bars, set two feet apart, tied the roof to the foundation. Concrete grout filled the open spaces between the brick and bars. This brick was used in a number of homes and businesses in the Los Angeles area.
During World War II, the brickyard reduced the daily production of brick to 27,000, mainly due to the lack of manpower, due to the war-time wage freeze. By 1946, the plant was hoping to increase its production to 144,000 brick per day, but with only 40 workers, it produced only 14,400 per day in the last few years of operation. The plant superintendent was R. C. Hendrix, and the foreman, Guadalupe R. Martinez.
The demand for building bricks waned after World War II as concrete was replacing brick as the preferred structural building material. The Simons Brick Company began to shut down the brickyard in 1947. In May 1952, the yard was condemned and the workers were forced to move from Simons. Acting as a guardian for her ailing husband, Mrs. Edith Simons gave $6,000 from their estate to each of the 19 remaining families to help them move out of Simons. In October 1952, the Simons brickyard was sold for $1,625,000 to Arthur A. Desser, a Beverly Hills attorney, who represented the interests of industrial developers. Two years later, in November 1954, Walter Simons passed away at the age of 80 years.
On April 15, 2005, the 100th Anniversary of the Simons Brick Company Plant Number Three, was celebrated at the Commerce Public Library, where over 500 former company employees and their descendants attended. The event was hosted by Commerce Librarian Donna Harris, who had invited as speakers William Deverell, author of "Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of the Mexican Past," Alejandro Morales, author of "The Brick People," and Raymond C. Ramirez, a Montebello native and local historian who had organized a reunion of former residents of Simons in 1984. Betty Uyeda, formerly of the Commerce Public Library, was instrumental in organizing the successful event. Additional information can be found about Simons on Betty's blog spot at Los Angeles Revisited.