Friday, April 29, 2011

South Mountain Flower Gardens

The South Mountain Flower Gardens that stretched along Baseline Road from 48th Street to 32nd Street (archival postal card retrieved from, April 2011,
Baseline Flowers shop owned by the Nakagawas. 3801 E. Baseline Road, Phoenix, April 2011 (photo by Geralden Del Rosario)

Baseline Road between 48th Street to 32nd Street, Phoenix
The South Mountain flower gardens were a historical and significant site by which a Japanese American community was established, became a source of positive visibility for Japanese Americans post World War II, and eventually transitioned a racially-specific recognized landmark into a suburban unit. Originally located near South Mountain in Phoenix along Baseline Road between 48th Street and 32nd Street (Asian SUNews), the flower gardens were established by Japanese American families beginning in the mid-1930s.  
According to the City of Phoenix Asian American Historic Property Survey reported in August 2007, a group of Japanese laborers was brought into the Salt River Valley in 1905 to establish a sugar beet farm. However, due to the desert heat, the crop failed to thrive and many Japanese farmers departed the area by 1915. Those who remained settled permanently and became the first Japanese community in Phoenix (Murray and Solliday 39-40). While most Japanese farmers farmed fruit and vegetable crops such as cantaloupe and lettuce (40), the Kishiyama family began growing flowers on a sixty-acre leased farm at 36th Street and Baseline Road in 1936 (43). The Nakagawa family farmed fruits and vegetables at first but eventually turned to growing flowers as well in 1940 (Nakagawa and Nakagawa). Other families moved to the area and followed the Kishiyamas and the Nakagawas in growing and selling flowers. According to both families, before they were able to plant any crops, the families needed to cultivate the land by uprooting rocks with their bare hands as well as creating their own irrigating system for the crops (Kishiyama-Harbottle; Nakagawa and Nakagawa).
During World War II, under Executive Order 9066, 120,000 Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and interned in different concentration camps in the mainland U.S. with the presumption that all Japanese were “racially inclined” to be disloyal to the U.S. (Ngai 175). Families like the Kishiyamas and the Nakagawas were forced to leave their homes and their farms and were given forty-eight hours to move out to the Poston War Relocation Center (Kishiyama-Harbottle; Nakagawa and Nakagawa). The Kishiyamas, although unable to purchase and own lands, became the owners of the largest number of acres of land to grow flowers and vegetables as they accumulated more land over time. Affected by the Alien Land Laws, which prohibited “persons ineligible for citizenship” from owning land and property, the Kishiyamas were only allowed to lease lands. Japanese Americans along with other Asian Americans were considered “alien citizens,” a legal definition which refers to “all Asians as racially unassimilable and hence ineligible to naturalized citizenship” (Ngai 170), Asian Americans who were born in the U.S. “with formal U.S. citizenship but who remained alien in the eyes of the nation” (8).  As a result, many Japanese and other Asian families were only able to lease lands and sometimes own lands through another family member under a different name. For example, Cindi Kishiyama-Harbottle’s family, member of the Kishiyama family who was one of the first families to grow flowers on Baseline Road, was able to purchase land under her aunt’s name (Kishiyama-Harbottle). During the family’s internment at Poston War Relocation Center in World War II, Cindi’s family paid another family to take care of the Kishiyama farm land, but in the end, the land was neglected and unkept, forcing the family to start from scratch when they were released from camp.
Post World War II, the flower gardens became a source of positive visibility for Japanese Americans as it became an established landmark. The growing of flowers spurred a tremendous change in Japanese farming where other Japanese families started growing flowers, which became a commercial crop for Arizona Japanese farmers. Many flower growers built stands and sheds along both sides of Baseline Road between 30th Street and 48th Street to sell flowers directly to the public, to the local florists and wholesalers, as well as shipped hundreds of boxes of flowers nationwide and around the world while making special orders to high profiled-people like the Reagan family (Kishiyama-Harbottle; Nakagawa and Nakagawa). During the zenith of the flower growers between the 1950s to the 1970s, the gardens became a tourist attraction in which cars drove along Baseline Road just to smell and see the flowers. Furthermore, people came out to the gardens and lined up to take pictures of Japanese women in their kimono and parasols with the flower fields serving as a background (Kishiyama-Harbottle; Nakagawa and Nakagawa). “By the 1950s, Arizona Japanese were shipping 250 boxes of flowers a day to nationwide destinations, and the flower gardens became a prominent Phoenix-area tourist attraction” (Walz 415).
Today, the flower fields that used to enthrall people have become rows of uniformly built houses of a suburban community. The area in which South Mountain flower gardens were established became a niche for Japanese American families, a racially-specific community well-known for its high impacts on Arizona’s agriculture and tourism industries not only within the Asian American community but with non-Asian/Asian American communities as well. Today, rows and rows of urban houses that make up middle to high income suburbians line up along what used to be acres of flower fields. In the middle of that suburbia, Mr. Nick Nakagawa’s, current owner of Baseline Flowers, flower shop stands as a reminder of what used to be. The shop which used to be occupied with handpicked flowers from his own garden are now filled with flowers that are mostly from California and South American countries like Columbia and Ecuador, factored by cheap labor and powered by economic globalization, the increasing economic interdependence of national economies across the world via global movement and trade of goods.
- Geralden Del Rosario and RJ Watson 

Asian SUNews. “JACL honors flower growers.” Asian Chamber of Commerce, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2009. <>.

Kishiyama-Harbottle, Cindi. Personal interview. 8 Apr. 2011.

Murray, Vince and Scott Solliday. “City of Phoenix Asian American Historic Property Survey.” Arizona Historical Research n.a. (2007): 1-112. AZHistory. Web. 11 Apr. 2011 < >.

Nakagawa, Nick and Kathy Nakagawa. Personal interview. 2 Apr. 2011.

Ngai, Mae M. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. Print.

Walz, Eric. “From Kumamoto to Idaho: The Influence of Japanese Immigrants on the Agricultural Development of the Interior West.” Agricultural History 74.2 (2000): 404-418.  <>.



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