PORT COSTA -- An old brick plant that churned out the building blocks of California growth for nearly a century is being sold to expand a park and increase access to the Carquinez Strait shoreline.
The East Bay Regional Park District has struck a deal to pay $4.1 million to buy 149 acres of the former Port Costa Brick Co. between and Crockett and Martinez.
Park officials said the purchase to expand the 1,415-acre Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline is another milestone in the greening of the shoreline along the tidal strait between San Francisco Bay and the Delta.
Several old waterfront industries and ranches have been bought for parks and open space in the last two decades.
Between 1905 and 1991, the plant in what was called "brickyard canyon" produced hundreds of millions of bricks for many buildings, including John Swett High School in Crockett and the UC Berkeley life sciences building.
Little is left of the operation.
"This is an important addition to public access to the shoreline," said Ted Radke, a park district board member from Martinez. "Much of the strait is lined with steep bluffs or marshes, but this property has some flat dry land along the shoreline."
The property is suitable for a major new entrance to the shoreline park, and use by hikers, bicyclists, equestrians, kayakers, fishermen and perhaps even overnight campers, park planners say.
The purchase can help plug a gap in a shoreline loop
Clayton Bailey, a Port Costa sculptor, said he was delighted to hear the two-county park agency is preserving the old brickworks site.
"The area is a natural gem," he said. "It has a creek flowing through it and a lake, where a mountain lion recently was spotted feeding on a deer."
Radke said he had wanted to make the area a park after brickmaking ceased in 1991. But the property was used to make aggregate for high-rise construction until 2005, and then the owners marketed the land as industrial property.
"I had just about given up hope," Radke said.
The park district and the property owner, TXI-Pacific Custom Materials Inc., recently came to terms on a two-part sales deal.
The first phase was approved May 15, when the park board approved spending $2.14 million to buy 97.4 acres of the land on the upland side of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.
The other 51.4 acres -- which includes 10 acres north of the shoreline tracks -- will be bought for about $2 million by Dec. 1, according to a report from the park district's land
Before the land is opened to the public, there will be an environmental study and public meetings on recreation alternatives.
The district also will consider whether extra safety measures are needed to protect visitors who will walk across Union Pacific Railroad tracks to get to the shoreline, said Nancy Wenninger, a park district assistant general manager for land acquisition.
"There are crossing lights at the tracks there now," Wenninger said, "but we want to make sure park users can safely get to the shoreline."
Once it controls the property, the district plans to install and close a gate across Carquinez Scenic Drive at night to deter trespassers who enter the property and set wildfires, drink alcohol and commit vandalism, she said.
Park officials also will look at options for ways to show and tell the public about the brickmaking history of the property.
At one time, up to 100 men worked at the plant, using 1,800-degree kilns to produce bricks that professional bricklayers liked to use because of their high quality.
It has been reported that during the Great Depression in the 1930s, hobos would sleep near the kilns to stay warm at night.
Only a skeleton of the frame and partial roof of the main building remains.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.
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