Malibu History: Geranium Field of Dreams

The front of a postcard from the 1950s; the description on the back of the card reads: MALIBU, CALIFORNIA: Japanese Geranium Farm near Malibu Beach showing Santa Monica Mt. in background.”

A geranium farm, in the middle of Malibu, overwatched by Serra Retreat and those rugged hills and mountains. Photographed in Kodachrome, which brings out the nice, bright colors…

That looks really nice. When was this? This was in Malibu? What’s the story here?

This is a Plastichrome postcard with color by Geo. E. Watson from the 1950s, and the terse caption on the back of the postcard sheds a little more light and color:

“MALIBU, CALIFORNIA: Japanese Geranium Farm near Malibu Beach showing Santa Monica Mt. in background.”

The description from the Eric Weinberg Collection at Pepperdine goes further:

“This postcard shows the colorful geranium farm that used to be visible from the Pacific Coast Highway in central Malibu, just west of Malibu Creek. This was the Takahashi Geranium Farm owned and operated by a Japanese-American family from at least the 1940s to the early 1970s. Serra Retreat is visible in the distance at the right of the image.”

A story by Paul Sisolak from the April 20, 2011, Malibu Times—“Former Malibu resident remembers forced WWII internment”—explains how Amy Takahashi (now Ioki) “was a member of the only Japanese American family in Malibu—and just 16 years old—when the call came to assemble at the corner of Lincoln and Venice boulevards in Venice, Calif.

“It was April 1942, four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the United States entered the World War II stage as one of the Allied Big Three. Ioki’s family, the Takahashis, was ordered to board the bus en route to the Manzanar War Relocation Authority Camp. It didn’t matter that the high school junior, her two older brothers and three sisters were U.S. born; their crime was simply being Japanese.”

The Takahashis were a large family of “itinerant farmers” and were interned together at Manzanar in the Owens Valley for the duration of the war.

“It was really like a concentration camp until they found out we were really harmless,” Ioki was quoted in the Times.

Also available in the Pepperdine digital archive is a clue as to whether that was the same family farm that grew those magnificent geraniums featured on the postcard—a classified ad.

The first ad was in the March 31, 1967, edition of The Malibu Times. And those classified ads appeared regularly up until 1970 with not much additional editorial information.

Now, we’re getting somewhere. Widening the search to the LA Times, “Takahashi Geranium Farm” in their archives comes up with two hits:

A photo in the March 14, 1963, LA Times has two people working the soil with tools and the caption: 

“NOW IN BLOOM – Guillermo Rodriguez, left, and Margarita Rivera remove weeds between geranium plants at the Takahashi Geranium Farm in Malibu. Recent rains brought on weeds. Flowers can be seen from the Pacific Coast Highway.”

And in February 1964, the central Malibu location was used for a fashion shoot in that newspaper.

“Fresh as the early daffodils and bright as the geraniums is this fresh, new look for this new spring. At left, soft mohair, tailored with the exactness of menswear. Only by the briefest of caps does Adele of California acknowledge that coats ever did have sleeves.

“Photographed against a riot of geraniums at the Takahashi Geranium Farm, this coat not only will winter in resorts but will summer from the West to the East coast.

And when asked on social media for memories, longtime locals hold a rich vein of local knowledge—remembering the family as the “kindest people,” “humble and fierce,” and the flower fields “so beautiful.”

That plot of land in the middle of Malibu isn’t as colorful as it was through the second half of the 20th century, but by some miracle that land—which is probably worth its weight in “unobtanium”—is still empty and still affords a clear but less colorful view up to Serra Retreat and the mountains beyond.