Tile tour guide

Let Riley Doty lead you on a tile treasure hunt

Barbara Tannenbaum

Catalina clay, Malibu tiles, Ernest Batchelder: For most aficionados, vintage tile is synonymous with L.A. But according to Riley Doty, an Oakland-based historian and collector, the Bay Area has plenty of its own tile treasures. "During the heyday of vintage tiles, Los Angeles may have had the bright and flashy colors, but the Bay Area wasn't far behind," Doty says. Today this heritage remains hidden and in plain sight all over the Bay Area, if you know where to look.

"Start with a walking tour of the Marina [neighborhood]," says Doty. "That's where I first got introduced to this gold mine of California tiles." He worked as a tile setter in the late 1970s and recalls his amazement at finding such a concentrated collection of vintage glazed pieces adorning the exteriors and foyers of the Mediterranean art deco apartment buildings.

"There's an endless variation of them, with hardly any repeating patterns," he says. "That's because the Marina, built on the flat, reclaimed site of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, was developed during the 1920s, when California's tile manufacturers were at their height of productivity." Doty has written a self-guided walking tour of the Marina that highlights where to see memorable tiles, plus self-guided driving tours of tile installations in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.

Why vintage tiles? "When I first discovered the Marina's vintage tiles, I responded emotionally, aesthetically," Doty says. "I didn't know a whole tradition and history existed as well."

Find vintage

For self-guided vintage-tile tour pamphlets, send $3 for each tour to Tile Heritage Foundation (P.O. Box 1850, Healdsburg, CA 95448; 707/431-8453 or