Let Riley Doty lead you on a tile treasure hunt
Catalina clay, Malibu tiles, Ernest Batchelder: For mostaficionados, vintage tile is synonymous with L.A. But according toRiley Doty, an Oakland-based historian and collector, the Bay Areahas plenty of its own tile treasures. “During the heyday of vintagetiles, Los Angeles may have had the bright and flashy colors, butthe Bay Area wasn’t far behind,” Doty says. Today this heritageremains hidden and in plain sight all over the Bay Area, if youknow where to look.
“Start with a walking tour of the Marina [neighborhood],” saysDoty. “That’s where I first got introduced to this gold mine ofCalifornia tiles.” He worked as a tile setter in the late 1970s andrecalls his amazement at finding such a concentrated collection ofvintage glazed pieces adorning the exteriors and foyers of theMediterranean art deco apartment buildings.
“There’s an endless variation of them, with hardly any repeatingpatterns,” 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 tilemanufacturers were at their height of productivity.” Doty haswritten a self-guided walking tour of the Marina that highlightswhere to see memorable tiles, plus self-guided driving tours oftile installations in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.
Why vintage tiles? “When I first discovered the Marina’s vintagetiles, I responded emotionally, aesthetically,” Doty says. “Ididn’t know a whole tradition and history existed as well.”
For self-guided vintage-tile tour pamphlets, send $3 for eachtour to Tile Heritage Foundation (P.O. Box 1850, Healdsburg, CA95448; 707/431-8453 or www.tileheritage.org).