Contra Costa Florist

By Olivia Frenkel

On Wednesday, January 22, 2020, the State of California awarded El Cerrito’s very own Hana Gardens senior residence the 1919 Honor for their efforts in preserving the Contra Costa Florist building. This award is given to just five sites state-wide and is “the only official preservation award presented by the state” said Julianne Polanco, State Historic Preservation Officer.

The ceremony took place from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. the historic Stanley Mosk Library and Courts Building in Sacramento. Paul Fadelli, El Cerrito’s mayor pro tem was in attendance as well as historical society members and volunteers who aided with the restoration and development of this historical site.

Dianne Brenner, who prepared the award’s nomination, explained the rich history that the building had endured. The Contra Costa Florist first emerged as “an even earlier era of El Cerrito history – the quarrying industry.” Originally built in the 1920s, it became the sales office of the Valley of the Moon quarry in Sonoma due to its close proximity to Bay Area markets’ as well as two near-by quarries.

As the quarry industry weakened, the building was bought by Hikojiro and Tomi Mabuchi in the mid-1930s and was turned into the Contra Costa Florist shop. A 2011 article, written by community member, Dave Weinstein, commented on the nursery’s importance within El Cerrito. He explained that the “quaint, stone-faced building was a Mecca for people planning celebrations or seeking to please their paramours.” The shop, known for their high-quality, provided their services to all of the high schools, parties, and clubs throughout the community. Weinstein briefly outlined the Mabuchi family’s humble beginnings. He wrote that Mr. Hikojiro Mabuchi was “known for his carpentry skills” and helped build nurseries for fellow Japanese floriculturists while Mrs. Tomi Mabuchi raised their three American-born daughters. The Mabuchi’s made sure to purchase their flowers from these new family-owned, Japanese-American greenhouses which strengthened the ever-growing Japanese-American floral businesses and community.

Despite their successes, the bombing of Pearl Harbor damaged the reputation of their entire industry. One of the Mabuchi daughters, Akiko, recalled the new hostility they felt from former customers, saying that the people “started slowly not coming. ... We’d go out and wait on them and they’d call us Japs and leave.” In 1942, the Mabuchi family as well as twenty families in the Richmond and El Cerrito floral business were forced from their homes and business to join the 120,000 other Japanes