Sunday, January 1, 2012

Places I Won't Model II: San Jose Brick Company

As I mentioned a while back, there were some photogenic or interesting industries along the San Jose - Santa Cruz branch that I just am unwilling to represent on the layout, either because of space constraints, lack of traffic, or just the difficulty of representing those places convincingly.

This week's pick: the San Jose Brick Company. The San Jose Brick Company was located out on Fruitdale Avenue just west of Willow Glen. On the railroad, the location was called Foyle, though there was nothing except the brick company's siding and a sea of orchards there. The 1931 track directory lists its location as "Foyle" even as it groups the spurs (holding 18 and 15 cars) with the San Jose canneries near Lincoln Ave. San Jose Brick's actual address was 1916 Fruitdale Ave, which pinpoints their access road / driveway well, but misses on the plant which was between Fruitdale and the railroad tracks. San Jose Brick Co. was a prolific brick maker; San Jose Brick shipped 23 million bricks just in 1887, and its bricks built the Spreckles sugar plant down by Salinas.

I'd never seen any pictures of the brick works themselves, though Historic Aerials shows the plant well. The 1948, 1956, and 1968 photos show the plant layout reasonably. But suburbia slowly encroaches, and by 1980, the site is all tract homes. I don't know what they had to do to get rid of the clay pit, but there's no depression there today as far as I can see, though I'll bet the local gardeners dig up an awful lot of brick fragments whenever they plant tomatoes in their backyard.

But there are other photos out there, and a California Bricks collector site includes two great photos of the plant as well as a history of the firm. San Jose Brick's wooden plant office underneath a mature blue gum eucalyptus just screams "California industry!" to me. The industry overall would be a nice one for a model railroad; the production buildings, kilns, and chimneys are photogenic, and the long spur would provide lots of cars.

There's also a bit on the business in a biography of Fred Dreischmeyer, one of the founders. Also, as keeps happening, when there's nothing else saved about the company, there's always a juicy lawsuit to keep the name visible.

Unfortunately, San Jose Brick, like Sewall Brown, has a couple fatal flaws. First, it really deserves to be out in the middle of nowhere, and doesn't deserve the space that could be used for another town. Also, like Sewall Brown, it's a big industry that really needs to spread out to be represented well. So San Jose Brick won't appear on this layout, but maybe some day I'll have more space for the San Jose branch.

1 comment:

  1. The Sourisseau Academy collection at San Jose State also has a picture of San Jose Brick around 1970. It's in the background of a photo of the new K-Mart on Fruitdale Ave, but a higher res copy might show what the plant looked like in its final days.