Brick by Brick

The little-known story of UCR’s iconic building blocks

By John Warren

Doug Pearson uses words like “extruded” and “one-third bond” in casual conversation. From 50 yards, he can tell you whether a brick profile is Norman, Roman, or modular.

So if you’re going to drill deep on the subject of UCR brick, Pearson, a salesman for local brickmaker Pacific Clay, is the person to call.

Yes, “UCR brick” is a thing, and that’s the only name it’s known in 60-plus years. The beige-yellow UCR brick is distinctive. It’s longer than standard brick, and it has a brushed texture. The color varies, slightly, from brick to brick — a product of different types of clay, and varied temperatures (between 1,800 and 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit) when it’s “baked.” It’s also solid, with no holes in the middle.

UCR brick is a product of its immediate environment, and deeply reflective of it. Since its beginnings in the 1950s, it has been sourced from the same clay mining pit in Lake Elsinore and “cooked” in the same kiln, Pacific Clay’s TK2 kiln.

“You try to create a sense of place where the buildings are reflective of that place,” said Jacqueline Norman, UCR’s campus architect. “It’s important. You don’t want it to look like you dropped a building from New England onto campus.”

Norman is the resident expert on UCR brick, which factors largely in UCR’s upcoming, 1-million-square-foot Dundee-Glasgow and North District expansion. But the brick has changed, along with its source material, over the years. And as Norman plunges into the largest campus expansion since UCR’s founding, she was curious about when and where the beige-and-yellow brick first debuted.

She called on Pearson, who has worked for Pacific Clay, the company that created UCR brick, for 27 years. He sold his first bricks made by the company in 1968. Pearson knows bricks so well, he’s acquired nicknames like “Brickmeister” through the years.

Stopping at intervals during a recent campus visit, Pearson studied individual bricks like an archaeologist on a dig. At Watkins Hall, he proclaimed the brick darker than standard UCR brick, but still UCR brick. At Sproul, less “ruffle” texture and variation in color. Still UCR brick, though. Spieth can also claim to have UCR brick, though the bricks are stacked on top of one another — a technique known as “stack bond” — instead of offset. Pearson shook his head.

“I don’t care for it,” he said.

At Webber, a nice mixture of tones.

“Good-looking brick,” Pearson declared.

The older buildings, Pearson observed, have all the darker tones of UCR brick, but not the lighter, yellow tones found in newer buildings, such as the Glen Mor apartments.

During their walk, Norman and Pearson admired the subtlety of the campus brick work. Standing before Pierce Hall, Norman noted the bricks positioned at odd angles.

“This could have been a big, plain, expansive wall,” Norman said. “But the brickwork creates shadows; the way the light plays across it is very pretty.”
Pearson stood off to the side of the wall. If you look from the front, he noted, the bricks appear to be the same color. But if you look from the side, the difference in brick color is noticeable, if not striking.

Many UCR architectural nuances are hard to see; such as the subtlety of a half-wall with articulated brickwork behind Rivera, and the grout mortar between bricks that slopes gently toward the brick below, which keeps water from collecting on the brick’s edge.

Pearson’s and Norman’s conclusion: UCR brick has been part of the campus since its founding more than 60 years ago, persisting through generations of campus planners and architects.

“Someone who liked the color picked it and set the standard,” said Pearson.
If there were no such thing as UCR brick, Norman said she would ask for it to be made.

“All the principles still apply,” Norman said. “The buildings are of the place where they stand. I find that meaningful.”

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