One of the signature details of Mexican & Mediterranean architecture is the colorful tiles used as accents. Today we import most of it from Mexico & Italy; that hasn’t always been the case. In California’s golden age the architecture of Spain, Italy & Mexico flourished. Perfectly suited to the California climate Spanish Colonial Revival architecture was featured at the Panama-California Exposition. Real estate development boomed. Colorful ceramic tiles are an integral part of Spanish Colonial Architecture. At first tile was imported from Europe. Later local companies were formed in southern California who excelled at the manufacture of this colorful tile & flourished until shortly after the stock market crash in 1929. Today you will find this tile over the southwest & California; almost every house we build has some if it. The two companies that really set the mark were the Malibu Ceramic Works and the Catalina Pottery or Catalina Tile Company.
Malibu Ceramic Tile Works was formed first in 1926 when May Knight Rindge (the last owner of the Malibu Spanish Land Grant) discovered large deposits of red clay instead of the oil she had hoped to find. She built a factory on the beach just south of the Malibu Pier. The beauty of the tile was deliberate, their processes were exacting and the glaze formulas were top secret. The company assembled a vast library for their artisans. A fire in 1931 destroyed photographs, documents and many tiles. Originally the company planned to rebuild. Sadly due to the depression that never happened. The tile inventory that was left valued at $50,000 at the time was moved to Mrs. Ridge’s unfinished house across the street. When she died in 1942 the home & the tiles were acquired by the Franciscan Friars and renamed Serra Retreat. Most of the stored tiles have been installed over the years.
The Catalina Pottery company was started a year later in 1927 by William Wrigley when he began building on Catalina Island. Initially the factory produced clay building products from local quarries to lower the cost of Mr. Wrigley’s buildings. A second goal was to provide much needed jobs for the local citizens. A year later they began producing souvenirs for the tourists and eventually dinnerware & decorative tile. Colorful Catalina decorative tiles with amazing glazes found their way to furniture, murals, interior & exterior of buildings on the island & across the United States. Like the Malibu Tile the original tiles were made of red clay, later white clay was imported from the main land. The original pool at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel was built with Catalina Tile. The appeal for this tile lasted through the Great Depression until 1937 when the stocks, molds & equipment was sold to Gladding, McBean & Co. who continued to produce the dinnerware, all tiles were discontinued.
Tile from these companies is highly valued today. It can be found on buildings all over southern California and in other states across the southwest.