The shuttered Tokio Florist on Hyperion Avenue—one of the last remaining markers of LA’s “once-abundant flower growing industry”—is a big step closer to becoming a city landmark.
In a 4-0 vote, the cultural heritage commission moved today to declare the half-acre Silver Lake property, along with the 1911-built Tudor- and Craftsman-style house that sits on it, the sign that advertises the florist, and the garden that grows on the site, as a historic-cultural monument.
Catherine Gudis, an associate professor of history at UC Riverside, who prepared the landmark application, told commissioners that the property offered a rare chance to “highlight obscured history” of Japanese-Americans in Los Angeles, a demographic that produced 65 percent of flowers grown in California after World War II and through the 1970s.
It’s a marker that might not be around forever. The family has put the site up for sale, asking $3.98 million, and there is the “potential threat of development” that comes with the change of ownership, said Kristen Hayashi of the Little Tokyo Historical Society.
The historical society nominated the site for monument status. Hayashi told commissioners that Yuki Sakai opened the Tokio Florist on Los Feliz Boulevard just before the Great Depression. They were one of several Japanese-American flower businesses on Los Feliz, and many Japanese-Americans lived in the area between East Hollywood and Silver Lake at the time.
Japanese-Americans dominated the flower industry for decades, though for many of those decades they could not legally own land or businesses, or rent in certain areas because of the state’s Alien Land Law and housing covenants that excluded non-whites.
During World War II, the Sakais were sent to the internment camp at Manzanar near Death Valley. Through an arrangement with a neighbor, they were able to maintain their rented land on Los Feliz. Once the family returned, “it took years before they could reopen,” Hayashi said.
In 1960, the Tokio Florist moved to the Hyperion property. Yumi Sakai, the daughter of the shop’s founder, and her husband, Frank Kozama, transformed the site, building a Japanese garden are the house that featured meandering paths, bridges, and water features around the property that not only delighted customers but ensured access to fresh flowers, Hayashi said.
The business closed in 2006, when the Kozawas retired. The Tudor-Craftsman on the site—the longtime home of Sumi Sakai, Yumi Sakai Kozawa, and Frank Kozawa—was built by the Althouse brothers in West Adams and moved to the Hyperion location in 1929.
The house remains in “remarkably” good condition, said commissioner Richard Barron, who had toured the site, but the gardens have been largely untended for years and have fallen in disrepair, he said. Nevertheless, the commission voted to name the entire half-acre property a historic-cultural monument.