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Celebrating Culture & Community's El Cerrito History Project

Celebrating Culture & Community is putting together interviews of 25 El Cerrito residents, a project aimed at showing the diverse communities that have contributed to the city's history.

The interviews have been made possible largely through support from the California Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For more information about Celebrating Culture & Community , contact Eve Ma at 236-3255 or ccandc_97@yahoo.com

Following is one of the interviews:


INTERVIEW with Tosh (uncle) and Ken (nephew) Adachi

11/29/99 (Eve A. Ma—Dr. L. Eve Armentrout Ma--interviewer)

--the father, and grandfather, respectively, of these two Adachis founded the first

Japanese American nursery in El Cerrito

--except as otherwise noted, the material came from Ken Adachi

The 1906 earthquake shook the water tank so much that water spilled out. That story is how Ken knows the nursery was founded before 1906.

(Tosh) The nursery was founded in 1905 by Tosh’s father (Ken’s grandfather), whose name was Isaburo Adachi.

Ken thinks they originally grew some cut flowers other than roses, but soon turned to hothouse roses (in greenhouses). (Tosh) They grew roses (and apparently, not anything else before that).

They would market the roses on the wholesale flower market in San Francisco. They got paid in $20 gold pieces. They would take the ferry from the Berkeley pier to get across the Bay. [This was before the Bay Bridge was built.]

All that they grew, they grew in greenhouses; nothing outdoors. The nursery was located where Home Depot is now [on San Pablo Ave.’s west side, near where BART crosses over San Pablo Ave., a little south of MacDonald Ave.].

The other Japanese American nursery family had a nursery called "Ooks." Ken doesn’t know the family’s name. Their land was located where the abandoned Food Bowl building is now, near the corner of Cutting Blvd. and San Pablo Ave.. That family also grew roses.

(Tosh) Tosh’s parents were both from Japan. His mother was educated in Tokyo, but probably came from somewhere else. They were not the first Japanese Americans in this area. Others who came either around the same time or somewhat earlier were the Nabeta and the Fuji family, who also grew roses. Ken remarked that actually, they were in Richmond, near Potrero Ave., and Tosh agreed.

Both Tosh and Ken lived in El Cerrito all their lives [except during World War II, when the family was sent to internment camps].

The Adachi nursery in El Cerrito [which closed down within the last 5 years] had one part of its land in El Cerrito and one part in Richmond. The city lines ran right through the nursery.

When Ken was a kid, he remembers that San Pablo Ave. used to be very low near the nursery, maybe 10 feet lower than what it is now. There was a depression there. It did not flood when there were heavy rains because there was a creek, or drainage canal, near [behind?] the property.

After the war, the family returned to the nursery. They had to start all over again. The roses were dead, the greenhouse panes were broken, they had to rebuild it all. By the [early?] 1950s, they had started the retail business instead of the wholesale roses. They opened the El Sobrante store in 1967. [That store is also primarily retail.]

El Cerrito now, as opposed to "then" [when Ken was growing up]" There was lots more open space behind San Pablo Ave.. He remembers his father saying that there used to be sheep grazing there. His father went to Richmond High School, because there was no El Cerrito High then. He took the electric train that ran from Oakland to get to Richmond High. Ken also remembers an archway over MacDonald Ave. which said something like "Welcome to Richmond." This was before the freeway was built, and San Pablo was the main highway to get to Oakland, San Francisco, etc.. On weekends, it was full of traffic; they could barely pull out of their driveway.

Ken doesn’t know much about El Cerrito’s Japanese American community as such. His family is Buddhist; the Christians did more socializing with each other, not the Buddhists. He goes to the [Japanese Buddhist] temple in Oakland now, but before, he [they?] went to the one in Berkeley on Channing.

Before the 1950s, the Japanese American community in El Cerrito was small. There was a larger one in Berkeley and in San Francisco.

His (Ken’s) mother was born in Nevada. The Adachi business was started by his paternal grandfather.

They do their business all over; they buy from wholesale houses in Southern California, Oregon, Washington, and gift items from around the world. For social life, one thing they do is go to restaurants. They don’t go to any in El Cerrito really. They go to ones in San Francisco, in Oakland, and in San Pablo (La Strada). He lives in El Cerrito still, with his elderly parents, and helps care for them.

[question—any parts of this area where you don’t feel comfortable going]—yes, certain parts of Richmond, below 23rd Street.

[question—how comfortable is it here for Japanese Americans]—His (Ken’s) father told him that when they were first here in El Cerrito, some neighbors were not too friendly, Now, that’s more or less a thing of the past [but maybe not entirely],

[question—what he likes best about El Cerrito, what he likes least, and what he would do to the city if he had a magic wand]—best=no answer. What he likes least is the loss of the small town feeling, and the loss of open space. The open space isn’t really accessible to most people because it’s mainly in the hills. He wishes there were more in the areas lower down. If he had a magic wand, he’d have more greenbelt in the city, and more bike paths, not just under the BART tracks. As it is, the city is almost wall to wall houses.

He also remembers with fondness that there used to be a Scout parade from El Cerrito Plaza down San Pablo Ave. to El Cerrito High School. He misses that kind of friendly community feeling, and the parade.

Ken says the family is trying to help his grandmother find photos of the early days of the Adachi nursery, but they haven’t found them yet. He does think he can locate one photo of his three sisters in front of the greenhouses, and will get in touch with me about it.


1900 International MarketPlace, San Pablo, CA., 94806

(510) 236-3255;  fax (510) 233-3068

e-mail:  CCandC_97@yahoo.com

Run dates: 2000-01-01 - 2000-02-01

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