Riverside was fired up to buy these 19th century bricks

Riverside was fired up to buy these 19th century bricks

I don’t know that I could sell ice to the Eskimos, but it looks like I can sell old bricks to Riversiders.

The 30 unsold bricks from the old Loring Opera House that were in the possession of the Old Riverside Foundation were featured in my column Wednesday.

By 10 a.m. that morning, all 30 bricks had sold.

“The phone was ringing off the hook this morning,” Dave Stolte, president of the Old Riverside Foundation, told me Wednesday after selling the last brick.

“I changed our voicemail: ‘If you’re calling about the bricks, they’re all gone.’ Someone was calling as I was changing our voicemail,” Stolte added.

Yes, bricks were flying, and we can only hope no one was injured.

“You missed your calling,” reader Mike Hudson told me by email. “You could have been a used brick salesman instead of a columnist.”

It’s hard to say which career has a more dismal future, but at least I have options.

Since interest was so high in this bricking, er, breaking news, let me expand on my account from Wednesday about why these bricks were still around.

The opera house building — better known as the Golden State Theater, its use from 1927-1973 — on Mission Inn Avenue downtown suffered a devastating fire in late 1990 and was demolished within days as a safety hazard.

On the plus side, thousands of bricks were salvaged. In April 1991, six months after the fire, came an event downtown with a whimsical name: “The Mayor’s Brick Thing for the Arts: From Ashes to Arts.” Ruth McCormick of the Main Library dug up the flier for me.

“Hopes for restoring the Loring Opera House were dashed in October 1990 when it was destroyed by arson,” the flier reads. “Bricks sold from its site represent not only a sentimental value and a memento of the community’s history but also a first effort toward raising funds for the support of city arts facilities.”

Bricks with a commemorative plaque went for $25 each to benefit the Municipal Auditorium, Riverside Art Museum and the Fox Theater.

More of these commemorative bricks were sold in 1992 specifically to fund improvements at the auditorium, again under the auspices of then-mayor Terry Frizzel.

And, according to a 1993 Press-Enterprise story, one couple bought bricks in bulk.

For their home west of Temecula, constructed and furnished with salvaged parts and in the spirit of the hodge-podge Mission Inn, George and Debra Natale bought 10,000 Loring bricks.

I can only marvel at how many bricks must have made up the Loring Opera House if someone could buy 10,000 and yet hundreds if not thousands of other bricks were able to be sold individually.

This photo shows the Loring Opera House in Riverside before it became the Golden State Theater. When the building was torn down in 1990 after being gutted by fire, thousands of bricks were salvaged and sold. (File photo)
This photo shows the Loring Opera House in Riverside before it became the Golden State Theater. When the building was torn down in 1990 after being gutted by fire, thousands of bricks were salvaged and sold. (File photo)

Years passed. Imagine calendar pages flying, as in an old movie.

In 2020, some overdue housecleaning at the mayor’s office in City Hall unearthed a stash of 40 Loring bricks stored in a closet. (I’m picturing Fibber McGee opening the door of the jam-packed closet and being showered with bricks, galoshes and other junk.)

The bricks were given to the Old Riverside Foundation, a preservation and heritage nonprofit.

Reader Nancy Cox, who had shared the story of the Golden State Theater fire with me, followed up by telling me about the remaining bricks, which she said the Old Riverside Foundation was planning to repurpose on the grounds of the Weber House, its headquarters.

I wasn’t sure I could get a column out of bricks — little did I know, right? — and didn’t follow up until last week.

Ruth West, the foundation’s treasurer, showed me the stack of bricks on the Weber House patio. Because only 10 bricks had been sold over two years, the foundation had indeed discussed using the remainder, 30 bricks, in a small garden West was planting.

But, providentially, they weren’t needed after all because fresh bricks were donated for that project late last year.

Apparently there are plenty of Loring bricks floating around Riverside — in a manner of speaking. A friend told me he sees them often at estate sales.

Still, it seemed to me that a brick associated with a 19th century Riverside landmark might be a coveted commodity if only more people knew about them, so I took photos and wrote the item for Wednesday’s column.

Rarely has 130-year-old construction material been in such high demand.

“They’d just been sitting there,” Stolte, the foundation president, said of the bricks. “Ruth had tried to sell them on Salvage Days and people were like, ‘A brick, who cares.’” He added: “It just shows the value of a story.”

Salvage Day is the twice-a-month sale at Weber House in which homeowners in search of period building materials from the 1890s to the 1960s — doorknobs, light fixtures, double-hung windows and such — can buy what they want for a nominal charge.

Weber House is at 1510 University Ave. and Salvage Day, on the second and fourth Saturday of the month, takes place from 9 a.m. until early afternoon. The next one is Feb. 11.

Some brick buyers this week had never heard of the Old Riverside Foundation — it was established in 1979 to preserve and defend Riverside’s built environment — and signed up as members. A few buyers snapped up other items while in the online shop.

One buyer of a $20 brick “offered $100 to support us,” Stolte said.

Nice to know these bricks landed with an impact.

Here’s another: I’ll write a column about Weber House in the near future because, while I was there checking out the bricks, West gave me a tour.


The former owners of Montclair’s Mission Tiki Drive-In, which closed last month after sale of the property, got a “certificate of special congressional recognition” from the office of Rep. Norma Torres, D-Pomona. It reads in part: “Thank you for providing an unforgettable experience to generations of movie-goers and community members. May this certificate serve as a testament to your legacy as a cherished part of our community, and a reminder of the joy and entertainment brought to so many.”

David Allen writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday, a testament to the need to fill newspaper space. Email dallen@scng.com, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.

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