EL CERRITO -- Historical preservationists have reached an informal agreement with developers of a senior housing project on the use of a former flower shop once owned by a Japanese American family that was interned during World War II.
The former Contra Costa Florist shop, at 10848-10860 San Pablo Ave., will be turned into a meeting space for residents of the 63-unit project to be built by Hayward-based Eden Housing.
Eden originally intended to use the shop, once owned by the Mabuchi family, as a bicycle storage area and exercise space for the project's residents before members of the El Cerrito Historical Society and the Japanese American Citizens League objected during a series of public meetings in September.
Preservationists previously agreed not to stand in the way of Eden's plans to raze the Mabuchi's former residence that is located behind the shop. The former Tradeway furniture store on the site will also be demolished.
"The flower shop will be a space used by the residents primarily for activities and there may be events that we could invite the community in, a heritage day of some kind," said Woody Karp, Eden's project manager.
Eden has agreed to create some sort of historical display on the site commemorating the Japanese flower industry in West Contra Costa and the Japanese residents who were sent to the internment camps.
The display will be located in a public plaza planned for the north side of the complex along San Pablo Avenue, Karp said.
The historical society would like Eden to create some sort of visual timeline that shows the history of the flower industry and use brick or rock from the former residence that will be torn down in constructing the plaza, said member Tom Panas.
Karp said Eden is looking for a historical consultant to help research and design a display.
The historical society would like to see some of the florist shop space used for a full- or part-time art studio, but that has yet to be negotiated, Panas said.
"Mr. Mabuchi was an artist and it would be appropriate to honor that," he said.
A draft environmental impact report on the project was released for public comment last month.
El Cerrito Development Services Manager Margaret Kavanaugh-Lynch did not return calls seeking comment.
The Mabuchis established the florist shop in 1934 in what were the former offices of a quarry company.
The family was interned in 1942 for the duration of the war and returned to El Cerrito and reestablished the business in 1945.
Japanese immigrants began arriving in the East Bay in 1888 and the first Japanese-owned flower nursery opened in West Contra Costa in 1900, Panas said.
"Everyone in the industry competed with each other and worked together at the same time," he said.
Mabuchi used to repair the nurseries' greenhouses in addition to selling flowers that were grown at the nurseries, Panas said.
-- Woody Karp, Eden's project manager