The History of the California Flower Market
1884: The Domoto brothers landed in San Francisco from Wakayama Prefecture in Japan. They operated their nursery at 3rd and Grove (Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr.) streets in Oakland until 1892 when they moved to a larger location on Central Avenue and East 14th Street in Oakland. By 1902, the Domoto Brothers Nursery was importing and producing both European and Japanese flower varieties, including many different kinds of chrysanthemums.
Early 1890s to 1909: A wholesale outdoor flower market was held two times a week at the corner of Kearney and Market Streets, between Lotta’s Fountain and Podesta & Baldocchi florists. Growers were able to transport their flowers to the market using the Southern Pacific and Key System ferry lines and trains. From its inception, the flower market served growers primarily represented by three ethnic communities: Chinese Americans, Italian Americans, and Japanese Americans.
April 18, 1906: The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed the majority of downtown San Francisco. In July, San Francisco issued an ordinance to landowners to remove all debris, enabling the open air flower market to resume in San Francisco. At the end of the year, however, the City of San Francisco passed another ordinance that made street sales illegal. Japanese American flower growers organized the California Flower Growers Association where growers were able to protect their mutual interests. The California Flower Growers Association, led by the Domoto brothers and comprising 42 charter members, was tasked with the goal of finding a new location that was accessible to growers bringing their supplies to sell.
1906-1912: As the number of tenants grew, the California Flower Market moved locations, first to a basement on Bush Street, between Kearny and Montgomery streets, and then to a two-story building at St. Anne’s Place.
May 1909: The California Flower Growers Association created the first covered flower market 31-33 Lick Place, serving Chinese American, Japanese American, and Italian American growers.
1912: The California Flower Market was officially formed as a corporation under state law with 54 Japanese American growers as shareholders. The first general meeting was held on June 12, 1912 at which Motonoshin Domoto was elected as president. The by-laws required that all shareholders be growers, wholesalers, shippers, and/or florists.
1914 – 1920s: World War I and the post-war period saw an increase in the demand for flowers. More efficient transportation meant that flowers could be trucked and shipped to other locations.
1924: A new flower market, covering 22,000 square feet, was built at 5th and Howard streets. Three groups operated under the new market: Italian American growers had formed the San Francisco Flower Growers Association in 1923 (formerly known as the San Francisco Fern Growers Association), Japanese American growers operated under the California Flower Market, and Chinese American growers ran the Peninsula Flower Growers Association.
1929: The California Flower Market published a book, Kashu Nipponjin Kaengyo Hattenshi [The History of Japanese Floriculture in California]. That year, Japanese American flower growers produced 70% of the major greenhouse flowers and chrysanthemums in Northern California.
1936: A badge identification system was introduced for retail florists in order to adhere to sales tax laws. Non-retail buyers could not purchase directly from the Flower Market.
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened, creating a direct route by road between Oakland and San Francisco and easier access to the Flower Market for growers in the East Bay.
California Flower Market – Growers in Greenhouse
During World War II, the United States Army ordered the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans living on the west coast of the United States. Many Japanese American flower growers and florists lost their land and businesses, while some were able to lease their properties to non-Japanese American growers. The California Flower Market, Inc. board president Sam Sakai continued managing the business of the Flower Market by mail while he and his family were incarcerated, first at the Stockton Assembly Center and later at Rowher concentration camp in Arkansas. Sam Sakai returned to the Bay Area in 1945 where he re-established the California Flower Market, Inc. board of directors and successfully negotiated the return of leases in the Flower Market.
(Footnote) For more information on the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, please refer to the Resources page.
1956: The Flower Market moved to a temporary location on 12th Street before moving to a building on the corner of 6th Street and Brannan Street in the South of Market district of San Francisco, with a grand opening in September 1956. The building covered 135,000 square feet and could accommodate 100 growers in its space. Two of the original shareholder groups, the California Flower Market, Inc. and the San Francisco Flower Growers Association, operated the market under the name San Francisco Flower Terminal.
1960s: Local flower growers were forced to compete with overseas suppliers when cut flower production started in Colombia and other South American countries where the climate supported the cultivation of many varietals, and where production costs were lower. The use of refrigerated containers allowed these cut flowers to be easily transported.
The Flower Market started an annual “Design Show,” bringing 800 to 1000 people to see different arrangements and learn about the latest designs and techniques.
1970s: While many women worked alongside family members in the business, most of the family-run growers were represented at the flower market by men. The Flower Market saw a change in the 1970s with an increase in the number of women retail florists, as well as gay men conducting business at the Flower Market.
1980s: The AIDS epidemic devastated the Flower Market and its customer base.
1986: The Badge System was created with the California State Board of Equalization to allow vendors to conduct non-tax wholesale business with their trade customers (badge holders).
October 17, 1989: A magnitude 6.9 earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay Area. Despite the severity of the quake, no one at the Flower Market was injured and only light structural damage was incurred. The Flower Market received a green tag which permitted business to continue.
1990s: The Flower Market committee rebranded under the name “San Francisco Flower Mart.”
1991: Martha Stewart visits the Flower Market, writing about it in her popular quarterly magazine, Martha Stewart Living. Her article on hydrangeas caused a boom in demand for this flower.
1990s-2000s: Demand grew for different types of flowers and arrangements. By the early 2000s, well over 100 species and types of cut flowers were grown in the U.S., including spring and summer annuals, perennials, and woody trees, shrubs, and grasses.
2014: KR Flower Mart, LLC, an affiliate of Los Angeles-based developer Kilroy Realty Corporation purchased the California Flower Market and the San Francisco Flower Growers’ Association. A new location is planned at 901 16th Street in the Potrero Hill neighborhood that will include both warehouse and retail space.
2020: On March 16th, the City and County of San Francisco issued a health order that put the city on a quarantine lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It took two days to shut down the market and, because distributors and wholesalers were not at first considered essential business, growers were forced to destroy 85% of their flowers. On April 22, 2020, just two weeks before Mother’s Day, the Flower Market was given essential business status and allowed to reopen under special Covid-19 conditions. 2020 saw one of the busiest Mother’s Day sales in the history of the market.
 Kawaguchi, Gary, Race, Ethnicity, Resistance, and Competition: an Historical Analysis of Cooperation in the California Flower Market, 1995 [dissertation]., p. 137.