Saturday, March 23, 2024

March Tour

 A driving tour of South Phoenix? So much to see. The Historical League tour covered nearly 30 miles and featured 8 points of interest south of the Salt River. Highlights included a visit to the South Mountain Preserve, a cruise past a home on the Historic Properties Register surrounded now by brand new million-dollar houses, a brief visit to the Sotelo-Heard Cemetery, a drive down "Funky Broadway" past the historic Precision Auto Parts and foundational Black churches and schools, and a stop to browse at Baseline Flowers, the last remaining shop of the Japanese Flower Gardens dynasty. Lunch was at historic Ponchos Mexican Food and Cantina, on Central Avenue, a mainstay for over fifty years.

Nakagawa Flower Shop on Historical League March Tour

 It's 1939 and a prominent Japanese farming family, the Nakagawa’s, starts a flower farm along Baseline Rd in South Phoenix. Long considered unfarmable, boulders and rocks scattered the soil and had to be removed by hand before the ground was plowed. Once the fields were cleared, the area was found to be excellent for large flower fields. The mountain created a down draft that kept the warm air on the ground and protected the crops.

In 1942, their lives were abruptly interrupted by Executive Order 9066, which forced Japanese Americans to sell or abandon their land and possessions and report to a government internment camp. The Nakagawas, and other local Japanese Americans were interned in the Gila River Internment Camp in southern Arizona. When they were finally released and allowed to return to their farms at the end of World War II, they found their lands ransacked and were forced to start again.
However, despite the interruption to their lives and the destruction to their lands, the Nakagawas, and multiple other families recreated thriving flower farms by the early 1950’s. For almost three decades, the Japanese flower farms acted as a colorful oasis in the middle of a rapidly urbanizing Arizona capitol. Every spring, tourists traveled miles to drive past the fields, smell the flowers, and purchase beautiful bouquets. At their height, the farms collectively shipped 259 boxes of flowers a day across the nation.
Now, the original flower fields are replaced with suburban housing. In 2006, the family sold the last of the flower fields. Baseline Flower Growers, the Nakagawa’s shop, is still open, selling flowers imported from South America and California. Though the flowers no longer fill Baseline Road’s 16-block stretch from 48th street through 32nd street, they still exist in photos and the memories of millions of Phoenix residents.
Thanks to tour organizer Jolynn Clarke, the March Historical League tour brought back all these memories. Thanks to Katie Tovar for the great photos and AHS for the history.