The California Flower Market Interviews

In 2021, the California Historical Society launched a project to capture the many voices of the California Flower Market: growers, wholesalers, florists, former and current staff, board members, and others whose stories are part of the history of the Market. The market at 6th and Brannan Streets in San Francisco was founded by Japanese, Chinese, and Italian immigrant flower growers at the turn of the twentieth century. Today, the market is officially known as the San Francisco Flower Mart.

In a series of interviews conducted by the California Historical Society, staff, flower growers, and retail florists—often spanning generations—talk about their experiences and memories of the flower market. The clips are edited from longer interviews conducted over 2021-2022.

Listen to audio clips and read the transcripts as they talk about the role of the California Flower Market in their lives.

Nick Themelis is a former vendor and current board member of the California Flower Market. Listen to Nick talk about a typical day at the flower market. Read the interview transcript.

Lou Neve started working with his dad in flower nurseries at the age of twelve. Listen to Lou talk about the beginnings of Neve Brothers Nursery from the early 1900s, and its continuation over four generations up until today. Read the interview transcript.

Denise Barnett

Denise Barnett, owner of Blossoms flower shop in the Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo for 37 years, talks about how she got started in the flower business and the changes she has seen over the years, including how the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s impacted the flower industry. Read the interview transcript.

Valerie and Robbin Lee

Valerie and Robbin Lee of J. Miller Flowers, are second-generation owners of a retail florist on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, taking over the business from their mother, Mary H. Lee, who purchased the store in 1970. Valerie and Robbin talk about their customers, and the buying trips they take weekly to the flower market. Read the interview transcript.

Willy Neve

Born in San Francisco but raised in Italy, Willy Neve returned to the United States in 1947 at the age of 19 and, following in his father’s footsteps, started working in the flower industry. In this clip, Willy talks with the Flower Market’s Rose Robinson and Jeanne Boes about the design shows that the Flower Market would hold each year, as well as the Market’s café – a local institution amongst growers and sellers. Read the interview transcript.

Bob Otsuka

Bob Otsuka, former Executive Vice President & General Manager of the Flower Market, worked there for 28 years. Here he describes the functions of the Flower Market and some of the challenges it faced over the years. Read the interview transcript.

Wilton Lee

Wilton Lee talks about how his family started their business, Lee’s Florist & Nursery, in Berkeley, California, and the changes it has gone through over four generations. Read the interview transcript.

George Koch, a retail florist, worked in the flower industry for nearly 70 years. In this clip he talks about the different vendors in the Flower Market and the many friendships he made along the way. Read the interview transcript.


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