Southern California Flower Market: A Japanese American Business Blooms

With dozens of stately blossoms and vibrant colors welcoming customers, an early morning on Wall Street in Los Angeles conjures the historic charms of the city.

The L.A. Flower District is the largest of its kind in the nation and an epicenter for floral imports around the world -- an ironic twist for an industry created and made prosperous mostly by the city's immigrants.

The Flower District began in earnest with the Southern California Flower Market, a shareholder collective started by Japanese flower growers and sellers in 1909 at 421 South Los Angeles Street. It soon moved to its current and permanent location on Wall Street. At the time, Los Angeles was not much more than a large farming community, with a population below 100,000 and agriculture fueling the industry of the city.

Japanese were highly influential in shaping the state and nation's floral industry. By organizing their establishment vertically -- with all operations from raising the plants to retail sales owned and operated by Japanese -- shareholders with the Southern California Market established a unique, economic power in their community and for their families.

Growers began on leased land for terms up to three years. At the time it was illegal for them to purchase land due to restrictive land laws like the California Alien Land Law of 1913. The market, known to most then as "the Japanese Market," was criticized for being open on Sundays and using women in the field -- which were necessary measures for poorer families -- and used as examples of anti-assimilation into American culture.

Flower growers would travel via the electric railway system, carrying bundles of flowers in a wooden basket, or on panel trucks before dawn in order to sell their crops in downtown Los Angeles.

Obstacles put in place throughout the history of the Southern California Flower Market, including losses and threats to their businesses during World War II, created the need for a tight-knit social circle that developed as something far beyond a business relationship. Despite constant constraints, the early members of the market worked around each obstacle with ambition and ingenuity to build an empire envied by all others in the industry.

In the videos below, Jon Kono, owner of Kono & Sons and president of the Southern California Flower Market, and Naomi Hirahara, writer and author of the book "A Scent of Flowers: The History of the Southern California Flower Market, 1912-2004," discuss the history and the role of Japanese Americans in L.A.'s flower industry.

A Once Thriving Japanese American Business
John Kono on the history of the market.
Challenges of Surviving
From Local to Global
Kono and Sons
Hanging Lightbulbs
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Kelly is a proud member of the KCET Departures team!
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