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September 11, 2007 > History

History

'Hayward says it with carnations...'

By Marcess Owings

...so say the Eden Writers in their book Hayward: the First 100 Years. Carnations have a long rich history as one of the oldest flower varieties, dating back 2000 years to Southern Europe. They were popular during the Victorian Era and prized for their clove-like scent. The ruffled blooms have been used in numerous boutonni?res, including those of President William McKinley, who was known to frequently dot his lapel with a scarlet red beauty. So how did Hayward begin to speak with carnations?

Carnations belong to the genus Dianthus, meaning "Divine Flower." Ancient Greeks and Romans used them in ceremonial coronation crowns, from which the word "carnation" is derived. The popularity of carnations would carry through history to the Victorian language of flowers, which was a means of giving coded messages through specific blooms and colors associated with symbolic meanings. In general, carnations symbolize bravery, friendship, and love. A pink carnation means "I'll never forget you" and red says, "My heart aches for you." A striped carnation is a sign of refusal or regret, and yellow symbolizes rejection or disdain.

Through the early part of the twentieth century, carnations were grown in Hayward on an elaborate commercial scale. Numerous nurseries dotted the Hayward area and populated the rural farm land between San Leandro and Fremont. Many of them were flower nurseries that grew carnations and other cut flowers sold at the California Flower Market in San Francisco. Our Mediterranean climate, coupled with greenhouse growing technology, would make it easy to grow carnations in this area. Hayward would become the carnation capital of the United States.

Despite a history of agriculture and ties with the California Flower Market, Hayward was without an official city flower until 1966, when a patriotic resident wanted to plant a bed of the city's flower. Finding that there was not an official one, she brought it to the attention of the Parks Commission, who in turn advised City Council to name a city flower. After much research, considering a variety of flowers and a public hearing, council voted the carnation the city flower due to its longevity and versatility. Thus Hayward became the "City of Carnations."

In celebration, Hayward's newly formed Carnation Promotion Committee launched "Carnation Week," which culminated in the Carnation Ball, a grand formal affair often held at Southland Mall. Carnation Week spawned the formation of the Hayward Carnation Festival, Inc., a non-profit organization with the goal of continuing the carnation festival. Proceeds from the ball were put toward civic and cultural development in Hayward. Those serving on the carnation festival committee included Kenji Fujii, local flower grower and then president of the American Carnation Society, as well as Jean Stroobant, credited with first suggesting the carnation for city flower.

The Carnation Ball gained popularity and became a big social event, complete with a Carnation Queen. Politicians, like former Governor Ronald Regan, were invited to the gala and Bill Daily of "I Dream of Jeannie" fame attended the 1969 ball with his wife. In 1971, Miss San Leandro Roberta Sengstak introduced Stroobant's song "Carnation Waltz." However, Carnation Week and its jewel of a soiree would end up a sporadic celebration through the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the late 1980s, Carnation Week was long forgotten.

Today, the flower nurseries have closed or relocated. It has been a long time since the last carnation revival in 1981. Hayward has traded its carnation festival for other celebrations. But the city's flower remains, ever a symbol of bravery, friendship, and love.

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