Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mystery History -- Solved


I stumped everybody again, although everybody was close in one way or another.

In the circa 1910 photo above, Hanhichi Wakiji, front right, poses with staff at the Nippon Nursery at 1505 E. Orange Grove, which he founded in 1905.

Born in 1876 in Japan, he set sail in 1895 for San Francisco where he worked as a houseboy before coming to Pasadena. He was only the second Pasadena pioneer born in Japan (Toichiro Kawai was the first).

With so many hotels and mansions being built by and for wealthy captains of industry from the east coast, Hanhichi saw a need and capitalized on it.

After learning the trade from the owner of Rust Nursery Company in South Pasadena, he founded his Nippon Nursery Company with two partners who soon after moved back to Japan, after which he bought them out and became sole proprietor.

Nippon Nursery provided palms, ferns, roses, evergreens and ornamental trees to hotels and middle- to upper-class residential properties throughout Pasadena and Altadena. It became a thriving enterprise and Hanhichi a prominent businessman.

La Pintoresca Hotel at the northeast corner of Fair Oaks and Washington was one of his many clients:


Hanhichi and his wife Taeno raised six children at 1485 E. Orange Grove, near the nursery, and were one of only three Japanese families living east of Lake Avenue. At the time, most Japanese families lived in what was for many years known as Japantown in what is now Pasadena's Central District.

Here's the family circa 1922:


And a formal family portrait about 10 years later:


The children -- Masa born 1912, James Hajime born 1914, Kaoru born 1916, Takeko born 1919, Mari born 1922 and George Minoru born 1929 -- attended Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and John Marshall Junior High School. Five of the six attended Pasadena High School and Pasadena Junior College; Masa was educated in Japan during her high school years.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Wakiji family was among many that were evacuated from the west coast of the mainland to internment camps farther inland. The Wakijis went through the processing center at Santa Anita Racetrack and were sent to the Gila River Relocation Camp.


By the time they returned to Pasadena in 1945, Nippon Nursery had fallen into a state of neglect so Hanhichi enlisted help in putting it back into shape quickly and rebuilding the business. He experienced discriminatory post-war comments about the name Nippon (the native name for Japan) so he changed the name to Wakiji Nursery.

Here's the extended family in the 1950s with Hanhichi and Taeno sitting in front:


Hanhichi retired in the mid-1950s. Two of his children continued to operate the business for another decade until they closed shop after he died in 1966.

Hanhichi and Taeno Wakiji are buried at the Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena.


Many thanks to the Wakiji family, the Japanese American National Museum and the National Archives.

3 comments:

Kat said...

What a great history! There are so many things in this post that I didn't know about Pasadena, and I love jumping from link to link to find out more....

altadenahiker said...

I'm not a link-jumper, but I will this time. Fascinating story.

Petrea said...

It's epic, really. Think about all that time. And the internment is such a strange outrage, so hard to imagine and yet not so long ago.

Thank you for a remarkable post, Ann.