Sandstone Brick Company sign
Sandstone sign (Photo: Kern County Museum / Mike McCoy)

By Mike McCoy, Executive Director, Kern County Museum 

Mike McCoy
Mike McCoy Executive Director, Kern County Museum

Although not a real agriculture story, the tale of the Sandstone Brick Company does touch nearly every industry in Kern County’s history. We did some digging into the 100-year-old company’s history recently when James Curran IV donated their iconic neon sign to the Kern County Museum. Our historian did some digging and uncovered a true American success story.

Young Jim Curran was a native of Illinois. He had come West from Illinois in the 1880’s to visit his uncle in San Francisco hoping the West would help his asthma. He took a river boat south and ended up in the southern San Joaquin Valley. The railroad was moving through the valley and small towns were popping up to support the second gold rush… agriculture. Stone fruit, cotton, grapes and grain was being grown on small farms in central California along with the near century old cattle business. 

Curran ended up in the growing town of Bakersfield. There had been a series of disastrous fires in the small community and the business district was moving over to brick. Jim Curran’s father had been a brick maker and young Jim knew the business.

Jim Curran, in the 1940s, on top of a brick press on Truxtun Avenue in Bakersfield (Mike McCoy)

Curran soon bought 40 acres east of current Union Avenue and started a brick yard under his own name. The bricks could only be made in the summer months and he had two workers to help. Kern County Land Company’s president W.S. Tevis saw bricks being made out of sand and lime in Germany and encouraged James and his partner C.J. Lindgren to change from red clay kiln fired brick to the sandstone process that used steam kettles. The two young partners tried the sandstone brick process and business was good. They also branched out into building materials and had a small lumber yard. 

Curran had so much success he incorporated in 1903 with Tevis as the major stockholder along with Lindgren. The initial investment in the company was $52,000. The young company made their unique bricks until 1918 when they sold their sandstone machinery to investors in China. Curran wasn’t ready to get out of the brick business though. The company still manufactured red clay bricks until the 1950s but had really expanded into building materials. The town was growing along with farms, ranches and residential subdivisions. Sandstone Brick and the Curran family worked hard to help the county grow. 

It is fair to say that Sandstone Brick and Bakersfield grew up together and that the Curran family built Kern County board by board and brick by brick. The Currans also took an active interest in civic affairs and local government. They served on the city council, school boards, recreation districts and were active in churches. 

After 100 years of success, Sandstone and Brick began to see the development of big box stores and tough multi-state competition. They finally sold out and turned the once active lumberyard and brick works into an alternative school campus. 

While the main Sandstone company is now gone, the 20-foot neon sign that once invited contractors and builders to their Truxtun Street location is now in the museum’s Neon Courtyard. Jim the Fourth and the Curran family are very pleased that the sign can now be seen by another generation of museum visitors. And history will remember a young man that took a look around the dusty town of Bakersfield 140 years ago and said, “I think this place needs some bricks.”