Before Dawn in L.A., the Southern California Flower Market is Bustling
The Southern California Flower Market in the Los Angeles Flower District is a somewhat mysterious “best kept secret” that began as a shareholder collective started by Japanese flower growers in the city’s Little Tokyo neighborhood– a little known artifact of L.A.’s historical development as a cosmopolitan city.
In 1910, Japanese American farmers organized a flower market that became known as the Southern California Flower Market, located at 421 Wall St, setting a precedent for the influential role that foreign growers would play in shaping the state’s floral industry. By 1923, the market moved to the current location in two massive warehouses on S. Wall Street, where it has remained since as a staple of the robust California flower trade (until the 1960s, Californians supplied the entire nation with all of its cut fresh flowers).
Today, the Southern California Flower Market is owned by a “shareholder collective” of approximately 50 vendors and dozens of families who have a small stake in the business– a home-spun feel that persists in 2017. Many of the vendors working at the market today are descended from the vendors who founded the market over a century ago.
On a recent trip to the LA Flower Market, the GC Team explored the market’s offerings at 5 AM, when the it opened. Growers carted huge buckets of Japanese sweet peas and multicolored roses around on big wooden shipping carts that lent the hurried interior a creative rusticism reminiscent of a shipyard (or the vast Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo). All of the venders in sight were male, and the vibe was distinctly industrial– but the vast array of flowers and their thoughtful arrangement in buckets on the flower gave the market a familiar, almost familial touch– and a playful dash of chaos.
Vendors wrapped the flowers we purchased in old newspapers– copies of the New York Times and The Washington Post enclosed a pile of furry pink protea, and a churro lay idly under the cash register of the avuncular gentleman who sold us some sweet peas. One vendor had a prominent painting of Jesus hanging over his inventory, and a rosary draped around the cash register.
In October of 2016, Scott Yamabe, the market’s Executive Vice President, unveiled plans to renovate the market into a new, more functional space. According to LA Downtown News, the market’s current warehouse setup will be transformed by Architectural Landscape and Urban Design firm Brooks + Scarpa as the cornerstone of a new, 14-story building of rental units of loft-style design, a low-income housing component, and colorful exteriors (tentatively: blue, yellow, and green) to match the effervescence colors of the flower market below.
Improved parking, a shade canopy lined with solar panels, and new floral murals would also be included in the renovation– a project aimed the preserving the history of the Flower Market while making it newly accessible (and economically viable) for an expanding population. The mixed-used development was put forth by 14th District Councilmember Jose Huizar, with the goal of reinvigorating a historically important part of the city that has become what Urbanize.LA described as “functionally obsolete”. If successful, the project will achieve something that most Angelenos want to see: increased access to a hidden gem in a neighborhood worth preserving.