Distinguishing Bricks From the Remillard Brickyards
By Dan L. Mosier
Remillard bricks are commonly seen in buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. Those bricks are just your ordinary red sand-molded common bricks. They were popular and the Remillards sold just over a billion bricks during its 107 years of operation. At the time, the Remillard Brick Company claimed to be the largest common brick manufacturer in northern California. Remillard bricks were used in the first city halls in San Francisco and Oakland, in many hotels, including the famous Palace Hotel in San Francisco that was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, factories like Ghirardelli Square, Union Iron Works, and the California Cotton Mills, and in many commercial, school, and church buildings, as well as in homes.
In 1861, three brothers from Canada named Pierre (Peter), Hilaire, and Edouard (Edward) Remillard, established their first brickyard in Oakland on the shores of Lake Merritt. Initially, they were known as Remillard & Brothers before their company was incorporated in 1879. The Remillard Brick Company kept pace with increasing demand for building bricks from growing cities and towns by expanding their operations into three adjacent counties with six brickyards. They built large continuous Hoffman kilns to manufacture over 30 million bricks a year. The bricks in all of the yards were handmade, formed in wooden molds. A pressed brick machine was used to make pressed bricks at the San Jose yard. After the three brothers died by 1904, the business was run by Cordule, the wife of Peter, until her death in 1934. After that, Lillian Remillard, the daughter of Peter and Cordule, ran the brickyards. In 1932, Lillian married an Italian nobleman, Count Allesandro Dandini, and, in 1935, changed the name of the company to Remillard-Dandini Company. The Count and Lillian ran the brick business together for five years. After that, Lillian Dandini became sole proprietor of the company until it closed in 1968, when demand for building bricks waned.
In this article, I will show how to the distinguish the bricks from the six Remillard brickyards. Of course, this requires that the bricks in question are Remillard bricks, as suggested from a source. Knowing which Remillard bricks you may have gives the history and provenance of the bricks and can also provide a manufacturing period for the bricks and, therefore, a date range for the structure in which they are found. Remillard bricks, in general, have a wide manufacturing period from 1861 to 1968. So, knowing which brickyard made the Remillard bricks in question can help to narrow this date range.
During its long history, Remillard bricks were produced at six brickyards at different locations, but not all simultaneously. Only one to three of the yards were manufacturing bricks at any point in time. Depending on the size of the orders, bricks were shipped from one or more of the yards, so it was not surprising to find bricks from as many as three Remillard brickyards in a single brick structure. This association of bricks from different Remillard brickyards, when recognized, can also refine the date range of those bricks and, therefore, the date range of the brick structure. Remillard brickyards were located in these four adjacent counties:
Oakland and Pleasanton brickyards in Alameda County
Potrero brickyard in Contra Costa County
San Rafael and Greenbrae brickyards in Marin County
San Jose brickyard in Santa Clara County.
These brickyards were meant to serve the area or county in which they were located, as revealed in the company ledgers. But these brickyards also helped each other to fulfill large orders when necessary.
Because the exterior appearance of Remillard bricks from the six brickyards pretty much look alike, I’ll give a general description of their exterior features here. These features are important to help distinguish Remillard bricks from those of other brickmakers. The bricks are well-formed rectangular shapes of American standard size, about 8 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 2 1/2 inches high, plus or minus ¼ inch in every direction. Special shapes were also made in the form of bullnose, wedge, arch, and watertable shapes. The bricks were molded in wooden molds and quartz sand was used for lubrication to prevent sticking to the mold, so the surfaces of the brick are coated with sand. A thicker coating of sand usually gives the brick a pale red color, but the colors can range from orange-red to reddish brown, and even black in clinker bricks. Some bricks contain yellow flash patterns that may be in halos or at any angles on the sides of the brick. The edges and corners of the brick are not usually sharp, except on the pressed brick. The surfaces may have pits, transverse striations, and stack indentations. The bottom face of the brick is usually flat and smooth, and may show imprints of the grains of the wooden mold. The top face is usually rough and pitted with strong longitudinal strike marks. Stack indentations are found on the faces of some bricks as well, particularly noticeable in bricks from the Pleasanton and San Jose yards. Around the top edges of the brick are usually seen a protruding lip that may be as thick as a half inch. Double lips are common and some lips have three or four layers. Some bricks may expose a few rocks on the surface, which may give us a clue to the originating brickyard.
Even as the exterior appearance of Remillard bricks are mostly indistinguishable from their different brickyards, there is a way to identify the brickyard from which they were manufactured. We have to examine the interior clay body components of the brick to differentiate Remillard bricks from one another. The clay body components are the clay texture, visible rocks and their amounts in the clay, and the abundance of pores in the clay. These components reflect the brick manufacturing process, the geology of the brickyard location, and the type of brick clay that was used. The differences noted in the clay body components will distinguish the brickmaker, as no two brickmakers will make exactly the same brick.
The three clay body components are defined as follows. The clay texture of the clay body could be a compact clay (clay with no pores, includes vitrified clay), a fine clay with pores, a granular clay (equant clay aggregate), or a sandy clay (clay mixed with sand grains). Clasts, or visible rocks, which can be seen with the naked eye or a 10-power hand lens, are identified, measured (only clasts larger than 1/16 inch), and the volume percentage of all of the rocks combined are estimated using the comparison chart for estimating percentages of composition by Terry and Chilingar (1955). The abundance of pores is the percentage of the pores (visible holes or pits) in the clay and assigned to one of these categories: compact (0%), low (<10%), moderate (10-30%), and high (>30%). For more information about this method see Method For Identifying A Brickmaker’s Brick on this website.
Samples of brick were collected from each of the Remillard brickyards to record the exterior and interior features of the brick. In some cases, historic research was done to find examples of bricks in buildings to obtain the complete measurements of the bricks when whole bricks could not be found at the brickyard site. Historic research was also done for each of the brickyards to compile the manufacturing years. This information was found in newspapers, history books, city directories, and trade journals. Fortunately, some of the Remillard Company ledgers were archived at the Stanford University Library, which helped to provide historic information.
In this research, it was found that most Remillard bricks were not stamped with a brand name. The only Remillard yard known to have stamped the name REMILLARD on its bricks was at San Jose, but only a very small number of marked bricks has been found. These appear to be pressed bricks, probably made in a brick press machine. In the 1930s, a brick from the San Jose yard also was stamped with DANDINI, when Count Dandini was operating the brickyard with his wife Lillian Remillard. Because we know of only one example, it may have been a commemorative brick. These bricks were found on the San Jose brickyard property by Sue Cucuzza, who is owner of the Ashworth Remillard Home Museum. So if a marked Remillard brick with either of those names is found, it probably came from the San Jose yard.
Another rare mark that may be stamped on Remillard bricks are the widely spaced letters CH. The Remillard San Rafael yard made some of the CH marked bricks that were sent to the San Francisco City Hall in the 1880s. This was a requirement for all brickmakers who were contracted to supply CH marked bricks for the San Francisco City Hall. The clay body components method was used to identify the Remillard San Rafael brickyard as the maker of this CH brick.
For each of the Remillard brickyards can be seen the differences in the two-dimensional views of the clay body interior of the bricks made by the Remillard Brick Company. To verify that the rocks in the brick occur at the brickyard, the geology of the brickyard site or a geologic map was checked. The rocks in the area of the brickyard should match the rocks seen in the brick.
The Oakland brickyard was situated on the southeastern shore of Lake Merritt where layers of sandy clay and clay from the Quaternary Merritt sand formation were mined for making bricks (Radbruch, 1957). The quartz and chert in the brick could have come from the gravels of the underlying Quaternary Temescal formation, which is an alluvial fan deposit (Radbruch, 1957).
The San Rafael brickyard was near the shoreline of San Pablo Bay on the Holocene alluvium that overlies Cretaceous sandstone and shale of the Franciscan Complex (Graymer and others, 2006). The alluvium contains clay, silt, sand, and gravel of chert, shale, sandstone, and metamorphic rocks. All of these rocks can be found in the San Rafael bricks.
The Potrero brickyard was on the bay shoreline that is underlain by Cretaceous shale and sandstone of the Franciscan Complex (Graymer and others, 2006). Quartz veins were seen cutting the dark gray shale and yellowish sandstone. The Potrero bricks contain those shale, sandstone, and quartz.
The Pleasanton brickyard was on the banks of Arroyo Valle Creek, where Holocene flood plain deposits contain sandy to silty clay and overlie the Livermore gravels that contain chert, clastic sedimentary rocks, igneous rocks, and metamorphic rocks (Helley and others, 1994). These rocks are also found as pebbles in the Pleasanton bricks. Two photographs for the Pleasanton brickyard are included to show a dramatic change in rock sizes after the brickmaker began screening out the larger sized rocks.
Greenbrae brickyard was near the bay shoreline on Late Cretaceous to Eocene shale of the Franciscan Complex (Graymer and others, 2006). The bricks contain abundant shale along with minor chert, quartz, and other rocks from the Franciscan Complex.
The San Jose brickyard was on the banks of Coyote Creek over a Holocene terrace deposit of sand, gravel, silt, and clay (Helley and others, 1994). This clay is the source of the yellowish white clay commonly seen in the San Jose bricks, along with rarer occurrences of chert and other rocks from the gravel.
Use the accompanying tables to find a match with one of the Remillard bricks. Once determined, it provides the probable brickyard and the manufacturing period for the Remillard brick.
Table 1. Exterior Features and Manufacturing Years.
orange red, pale red
orange red, pale red, red
orange red, pale red, red
orange red, pale red
pale red, pinkish red
Note: Brick size and color can vary, so these are not considered diagnostic features for distinguishing among Remillard bricks. These features may be more useful in differentiating from bricks made by other brickmakers, whose brick sizes or colors may be significantly different.
Table 2. Interior Clay Body Components of Remillard Bricks
Rocks (decreasing order)
chert, quartz, shale
quartz, shale, sandstone
quartz, chert, sandstone, shale
yellowish clay, quartz
Graymer, R. W., Moring, B. C, Saucedo, G. J., Wentworth, C. M., Brabb, E. E., and Knudsen, K. L., Geological Map of the San Francisco Bay Region, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 2918, 2006.
Helley, E. J., Graymer, R. W., Phelps, G. A., Showalter, P. K., and Wentworth, C. M., Quaternary geology of Santa Clara Valley, Santa Clara, Alameda, and San Mateo Counties, California: a digital database, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report OF-94-231, 1994.
MTC. San Francisco Bay Area County boundaries 2000. [Shapefile]. California. Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Retrieved from https://maps.princeton.edu/catalog/ark28722-s73885.
Oakland Enquirer, Remillard Brick Co., Special Edition, 1888, p. 63.
Oakland Enquirer, Remillard Brick Company, December 24, 1897, p. 20.
Oakland Tribune, The Remillard Brick Company, December 23, 1907.
Pettijohn, F. J., Sedimentary Rocks, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., third edition, 1975.
Radbruch, Dorothy H., Areal and Engineering Geology of the Oakland West Quadrangle, California, U.S. Geological Survey, Miscellaneous Geologic Investigations Map I-239, 1957.
Terry, Richard D., and Chilingar, George V. Comparison chart for estimating percentage composition,Journal of Sedimentary Petrography, v. 25, no. 3, p. 229-234.
Citation: Mosier, Dan L. Distinguishing Bricks From the Remillard Brickyards. California Bricks, https://californiabricks.com, 2022.