Metlox Pottery, strictly speaking Metlox Manufacturing Company, was a manufacturer of ceramic housewares, located at 1200 Morningside Drive, Manhattan Beach, California. It was founded in 1927 by T. C. Prouty and his son Willis Prouty, originally as a producer of outdoor ceramic signs. After the death of T.C. in 1931, Willis renamed the company Metlox Pottery ("Metlox" is a combination of "metal" and "oxide," a reference to the glaze pigments), and began producing dinnerware. The Metlox Manufacturing Company was incorporated October 5, 1933. Evan K. Shaw, of American Pottery in Los Angeles, purchased Metlox from Willis Prouty in 1946. After Shaw's death in 1980, Kenneth Avery became the president of Metlox. The first line of pottery produced, "Poppytrail," became well known for its brightly colored glazes derived from locally mined metallic oxides. Subsequent lines included "Nostalgia," "Red Rooster," "California Provincial," "Colonial Homestead," "Homestead Provincial," and "Colorstax."
In the 1950s Metlox introduced a line of moderist dinnerware featuring free form designs and squared plates using "blanks" that were then decorated with designs and colors. These were then marketed under the pattern names of "California Contempra", "California Modern" and "California Freeform" names.
Besides kitchenware, Metlox also produced a very popular line of large ceramic horses and carriages in the 1950s that is still very collectible. Carl Romanelli designed vases, figurines and miniatures for Metlox. A line of collectible ceramic people planters called "Poppets," designed by studio potter Helen Slater, were produced starting in 1970.
The pottery factory closed in 1989 after 62 years of operation. The Los Angeles Times reported on June 21, 1989: "The problem, county Health Department officials say, is that lead and other dangerous heavy metals that were byproducts of the pottery-making process had been dumped for years into a 60-by-40-foot open-air pit on the plant property at Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Valley Drive. With Metlox out of business and the extent of the contamination unclear, officials say it could take at least two years for the mess to be cleaned up.
Moreover, they say, an investigation is under way to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against officials of Metlox, which leased the property from the Santa Fe Railway Co. and a Manhattan Beach development firm.
'We're investigating the possibility of referring criminal charges to the district attorney's office (concerning) the illegal storage of hazardous waste,' said Bill Jones, chief of investigations for the county's hazardous materials control program.
A study of the clay-covered open pit, conducted after the problem was disclosed in 1987, revealed lead readings ranging from 15 parts per million to 118,000 p.p.m. Readings above 1,000 p.p.m. are deemed hazardous, according to county health officials.
Jones said that the owners of the two affected property parcels--the Santa Fe Railway and the Manhattan Pavilion development firm--have each hired consultants to determine the extent of the lead, cadmium and zinc pollution. Once the studies are completed, health officials can better estimate the cost and scope of a cleanup.
Jones said that the contaminants in the pit, which is covered in a seemingly makeshift manner by plastic sheeting held in place with bricks and wood, do not appear to pose a health hazard to nearby residents or pedestrians.
"The biggest concern would be from dust carrying the lead, but all the dust you see around there is clay," Jones said. "The concern is the glaze containing the lead . . . and the glaze isn't blowing around." City officials say they are satisfied with the county's conclusion. 'It's not some rocket science mixture there, it's lead from ceramic glaze,' City Councilman C.R. (Bob) Holmes said. "I don't think this will push the envelope on the state of the art" of toxic cleanups.
On the other hand, Holmes said, officials are disturbed that the ceramics firm left behind such a headache.
'It's the end of an era but it's a shame it had to end on such a sour note," the councilman said. "The Metlox people acted in bad faith and made no attempt to clean up the problem they created for many years. But now that they are out of the property, the Santa Fe and David Arias (general partner of Manhattan Pavilion), I believe, will attempt to very expeditiously clean up the site.'"
Many employees were harmed by their work at Metlox, yet most were very low income workers who unable to take legal action. Employees reported headaches, tremors, and seizures.
Poisoned Past : Metal Waste Contaminates Site of Closed Pottery Factory in Manhattan Beach, June 21, 1989|PAUL FELDMAN | Times Staff Writer
- Gibbs, Carl. Collector's Encyclopedia of Metlox Potteries: Identification and Values, Second Edition. Collector Books (2001) ISBN 1-57432-224-9
- Chipman, Jack. Collectors Encyclopedia of California Pottery, Second Edition. Collector Books (1998) ISBN 1-57432-037-8