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Silver Lake says goodbye to Tokio Florist and a Japanese-American legacy

Silver Lake  — Bargain hunters, neighbors and old friends swarmed over the 100-year-old Tudor-style home that for decades housed the Kozawa family and their business – Tokio Florist.

An estate sale provided an opportunity to explore the overgrown grounds and creaky house on Hyperion Avenue that has intrigued  passersby in the busy commercial hub.

Wedged between Jersey Mike’s and the Trader Joe’s parking lot,  the two-story home is mostly hidden from view by shrubs, trees and other greenery. Out front, a faded and rusted Tokio Florist sign rises above the sidewalk.

On Friday afternoon, Susie Kozawa watched as strangers wandered through the house she grew up in with her parents and grandmother.  The visitors sorted through boxes and displays of everything from kitchenware and old Playboy magazines to pieces of Bauer pottery and florist ribbons, vases and other supplies.

“It’s a privilege to be in the house,” one woman told Kozawa. “I’ve seen this house not knowing [what was inside] when I went to Trader Joe’s. All this, oh my god, it’s so fabulous, so wonderful.”

Tokio Florist was originally located  in Los Feliz on Los Feliz Boulevard, where it was surrounded by an acre of  sweet peas, ranunculus and other flowering plants that were cut and sold, said  Kozawa, whose grandmother, Yuki Sakai, founded the business in 1929.

About a dozen years later Sakai  and her family were rounded up with thousands of other people of Japanese ancestry and forced into internment camps during World War II. Many lost their property and livelihoods. But a family friend took care of Tokio Florist while Sakai and her family were at the Manzanar camp, Kozawa said. They resumed running the business after the war ended.

Kozawa’s parents — Sumi and Frank Kozawa — eventually ended running the business. In the early 1960s, the family and Tokio Florist moved to the house on Hyperion Avenue.   Many Japanese-Americans turned to Tokio Florist for funeral wreaths and other arrangements, said one woman.

In addition to fresh-cut flowers, the grounds were filled with potted plants, palms, shrubs and  bonsai available for sale.  The front porch doubled as a sales area while a flower cooler and work tables were set up in the porte-cochère.

The Kozawas had planned on building a storefront on the property. They even had architectural drawings for the building, Kozawa said. But it was never built.  Many customers said they enjoyed shopping on the plant-filled grounds, stopping by a koi pond and wandering up the driveway to the porch to place their orders, she said.

The couple retired more than a decade ago and have passed away. Kozawa did not follow her family into the florist business. Instead, she moved to Seattle and became a research technologist at the University of Washington.  Now retired, she is a sound artist who frequently visited her aging parents.

In an oral history, Kozawa’s mother, who died two years ago at the age of 100,  recalls that Hyperion Avenue, now a perpetually traffic-choked street,  had “very few cars” when they moved in.  “It’s just like still, like a country around here,” she said.

While the surrounding neighborhood has become more dense and noisy, the interior of the house — which was moved to its current location in 1929 — remains fairly quiet. The windows provide views of the surrounding parking lots, businesses and — in the distance — the Griffith Observatory.

What’s going to happen to the Tokio Florist house? After the estate sale, the property will be put up for sale, Kozawa said.

Kozawa said she won’t have a say in what the buyers do with the house or property. But, she hopes there will be a “creative reuse” of the property” so that there was a link to what was here.”

 

Susie Kozawa with a drawing of her mother, Sumi

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4 comments

  1. Wow, Eastsider! Thanks so much for publishing this wonderful story/pics. I remember when I first moved to Silver Lake back in the 70’s strolling through the gardens here to buy plants. I always wondered what happened to the house/grounds/owner, and now I know. It’s a true Silver Lake Treasure! I will stop by the sale tomorrow to pick up a little remembrance. Great story… one of your best ever!

  2. I love this story! I can’t believe it was back there this whole time and I never knew…

  3. I grew up in Los Feliz, but my mother tended to do most of her shopping in Silver Lake, especially at the old Hub Market, located where Trader Joe’s is now. She always ordered flowers from Tokio Florist and I loved going there. I’m so disappointed to have missed the Estate sale! Thank you for the wonderful story and photos…it really took me back to my childhood in the 1960’s.

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