Itinerary: California Tile
Considering the current interest in California art tiles, it’s sad that much of the work produced in the state between 1910 and 1940 has been lost to the wrecking ball. One of the most decorative elements of the American Arts and Crafts movement, these tiles can be found all over Southern California in swimming pools, walls, pathways and the interiors of many California bungalows.
According to Paul Duchscherer, author of “Inside the Bungalow” (Penguin Books), the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Diego led to a rage of tile popularity as a way to express regional heritage. More than 40 local companies produced beautiful tiles with subjects ranging from nautical themes to American Indian and Mexican designs.
Although most residential examples can only be viewed in books, there are many local places to find excellent examples of California art tile.
Have dinner at one of L.A.'s top restaurants, Campanile (624 S. La Brea Ave.,  938-1447). Charlie Chaplin started construction of this building in 1929 but, before it was done, lost it to his first wife, Lita Grey, in a divorce settlement. The building was adapted in the late 1980s by architect Josh Schweitzer, who kept the stunning tile fountain at the entrance. The tiles were manufactured by the Hispano Moresque Tile Co. (1927-32). The majority of the company’s designs were yellow, orange and turquoise green with Moorish designs.
California Heritage Museum (2612 Main St., Santa Monica,  392-8537, Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) has mounted a magnificent exhibition, “California Tile ‘The Golden Era’ 1910-1940,” which is a fine place to compare and contrast the work of 34 tile companies. More than 1,200 tiles, 50 tile tables and 50 murals are featured in the show, along with a lovely garden installation. Many well-known tile companies, such as Batchelder Tile Co., Rhead, Malibu Potteries and Catalina Pottery are represented, as well as lesser-known Taylor Tilery and Walrich Pottery. The exhibition closes Sept. 30.
Take an afternoon drive on Pacific Coast Highway to the Adamson House (Malibu Lagoon Museum, 23200 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, -456-8432, Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free.) The house was built in 1929 for the heirs of the last owners of the Malibu Spanish Land Grant. Well-preserved examples of tiles produced by Malibu Potteries can be found in the house, pool, fountains and bathhouse.
For a look at the use of California tile in a Spanish Colonial Revival setting, visit La Casa Neuva, part of the Homestead Museum (15415 E. Don Julian Road, City of Industry,  968-8492. Free tours Wednesday to Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.). Art tile can be found in every room of the 1920s-era house, and although much of the tile was imported from Mexico by Los Angeles-based B.A. Whalen Co., there are examples in the kitchen and bathroom of American tile that was most likely made by the American Encaustic Tile Co., which had manufacturing plants in Los Angeles. More than two dozen tile patterns can be found in the house, many copying Malibu Potteries patterns. It is difficult to determine the source of much historic California art tile, as it was often unmarked by the manufacturers.
Although the exterior of the Banana Republic building (1202 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica) features reproduced California art tiles, it is a good example of the work of present-day California Pottery and Tile Works (859 E. 60th St., L.A.  235-4151). The company not only reproduces historic designs from most of the big California tile companies, but can also re-create any tile design, even if the original maker is unknown.