San Francisco Floral

August 17, 2009

PHOTO COURTESY OF POP LAVAL FOUNDATION

Then: San Francisco Floral was started in 1913 by an Italian immigrant on J Street (now Fulton Street).

One of Fresno’s longest-running businesses is San Francisco Floral, opened in 1913 at 1201 J St. (now Fulton Street) by an Italian immigrant named John Azzaro.

Azzaro, born in 1890 in Genoa, arrived in San Francisco in 1905, where he worked and learned the flower business. He rented his first Fresno shop, but when he complained about the high rent, the landlord replied, “Eat less.”

Instead, Azzaro bought a store down the street at 1215 J St., where Claude “Pop” Laval photographed him in 1916.

Azzaro is standing behind his Ford Model T panel delivery truck. An unidentified employee, most likely a floral designer, leans on the light post at left. A motion picture theater is to the left of the store, with a poster advertising “Witchcraft, ” which starred silent screen actress Fannie Ward.

Azzaro married Anita Grossi of Sanger in 1921. They had two sons, Vernon and Robert. In 1925, he built a nursery and greenhouse at 5080 E. Tulare.

After several moves, the third-generation family business lives on in its 96th year, led by Robert Azzaro and son Andy Azzaro, at 5080 E. Tulare and 2010 W. Bullard Ave.

Robert Azzaro, John’s son, recalls that his father would feed about a dozen homeless men who hung out in the alley behind the shop at the nearby Newberry’s department store, which had a soda fountain and served breakfast.

He said his father would never speak badly about the men. When John Azzaro died in 1955 at age 64, Robert said, the large church where the funeral was held was packed. Outside stood many of the men he had helped feed, with heads down and hats in hand.

JOHN WALKER/THE FRESNO BEE

Now: The original address of San Francisco Floral doesn\'t exist today, but this is approximately where John Azzaro bought his first shop at 1215 J St. (now on the Fulton Mall), after renting down the street at 1201 J St. The location today straddles the Fresno County Department of Public Health building, right, and a closed retail store, left.