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Flower Power in Redwood City

Redwood City was once known as the “Chrysanthemum Capital of the World.”

For several generations, Redwood City has been known for its   “Climate Best by Government Test”  sign.

However, did you know at one point our mid-peninsula town was famous for something else? Indeed, Redwood City was once known as the “Chrysanthemum Capital of the World.”

The ‘roots’ of this story go back to just after the turn of the 20th century. In 1907 two Japanese brothers Eikichi and Sadakusu Enomoto put Redwood City on the map. These two enterprising immigrants began growing chrysanthemums. However, that’s not all they did. They invented a method which allowed the flowers to be shipped all over the US, which helped develop the aforementioned moniker

One of their biggest customers was the city of New Orleans, where they shipped flowers for All Saints Day, (which was just observed, November 1). At one point an average of 20 railcars per year were being sent to New Orleans for the annual event.

A Moniker is Born

The two brothers encouraged other Japanese immigrants to start their own floral businesses. It didn’t take long for the fledgling industry to expand. By 1926 Redwood City became known as the “Chrysanthemum Capital of the World.”

Many other Japanese-Americans became part of this ‘growing’ industry. Its rapid expansion gave birth to the California Chrysanthemum Growers Association in 1931

Fallout From War

Unfortunately, when WWll broke out things changed. There was significant discrimination against Japanese-Americans. Many were forced to leave their homes and were confined to internment camps. Their businesses were shuttered. Dreams got crushed, and lives were ruined.

However, this dark cloud had a silver lining. Many of the greenhouses which dotted a large portion of Redwood City’s southwest area survived throughout the war and beyond. How?

J. Elmer Morrish, the Vice-President of First National Bank, where most of the Japanese-Americans had their bank accounts became their lifeboat. Morrish kept in regular contact with them while they were confined to internment camps. He paid their property taxes and even ensured there was adequate supplies for the nurseries and families while they were interned. During a time when many Americans felt punishment of the Japanese was justified, Morrish demonstrated a spirit of kindness and generosity.

When the war ended, his actions allowed many of the growers to continue operating. Eventually, for a combination of reasons much of Redwood City’s floral industry relocated to Half Moon Bay, where several nurseries remain today.

Example

While Redwood City is no longer the ‘Chrysanthemum Capital of the World,’ the kindness J. Elmer Morrish serves as much needed example of how one person can make a difference in the lives of many.

Everything else is just history

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Some of the photos used in this blog are courtesy of the Local History Room, Redwood City's best-kept secret. The Local History Collection covers all aspects of Redwood City's development, from the 1850s to the present day, with particular emphases on businesses, public schools, civic organizations, city agencies, and early family histories. The Local History Room is not affiliated with the Redwood City Public Library, but it is inside it. ​​​​​​​