Early on in the history of San Francisco, flowers, flower venders and flower growing became a tradition of the city.
Vendors bought blooms from growers from the edge of the Presidio and set up stands in the busy center of the city to sell them. To the flower growers, there became a challenge to produce the most beautiful flowers that could be grown. This loose industry of growers had two problems from the start: there was not much land to develop their plots on and it was necessary to get the blooms to the vendors quickly after they were cut. The growers worked hard to get the blooms to market — leaving their land early in the morning and driving their teams of horses through the dark morning streets to be the first one at the market to deliver their flowers in perfect shape. This enterprising individuals was creating a uniquely new outlet for the many Italians, Chinese and Japanese who had the skills to produce wonderful blooms that enhanced the offices and homes of the developing tastes of this once frontier city. An organization of growers and sellers was needed, however, to ensure the sellers and vendors could service the public adequately.
Before 1900, a unofficial flower market sprung up on Market Street around the famous Lotta’s Fountain. There was a ready transportation system in place with the trolley cars on Market Street and others that converged in this area. Twice a week, the growers and retailers met between Lotta’s Fountain and Podesta and Baldocchi flower shop at 7 a.m. and inspection of the blooms were made, deals from buyers consummated and demand gauged for the shops.
All went well until the 1906 earthquake. Because of the increasing number of growers that sprung up down the Peninsula and the problem of keeping the area clear of large crowds, the flower market was banned from the Lotta’s Fountain area and they had to find another site at which to gather. They found a place between Montgomery and Kearny streets. This site was indoors.
Due to the destruction of many buildings and the rapidly developing market for flowers, the three main ethnic groups of growers — Italians, Japanese and Chinese — developed their own market locations. The Italians grew field variety of flowers and ferns; the Chinese raised outdoor pompons and asters; and the Japanese specialized in greenhouse-grown flowers, chrysanthemums, roses and carnations. These groups felt they could find adequate space for their wholesale market they split up. The Italians started the San Francisco Flower Growers Association, the Japanese growers founded The California Flower Market, Inc., and the Chinese ran the Peninsula Flower Growers Association. They nevertheless remained close to the Kearny/Market Street vicinity.
The growers met with increasing resistance by developers in the city as land became too valuable for only plots of flowers. With a surplus of land available down the Peninsula, groups began planting swaths of land around Millbrae and San Mateo. The San Francisco Water Department rented land in Millbrae and the Cozzolinos and Betrocchis, the Ludemanns , DelDons and a few others purchased growing land to meet the challenge of the increasing market. The Mock family settled in San Bruno and the Leong family in San Mateo.
In 1924, however the three groups relocated to large central complex at Fifth and Howard streets.
In 1956, the organization of growers moved to a new building at the corner of Sixth and Brannan streets. Here there was room for 100 vendors in the 135,000 square feet of space. This building, owned and run by flower growers, gives you the best quality of flowers while at the same time letting you feel pulse of the flower industry. Success is their most important product now.
Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.