Those of you who are new to Willo may wonder why the ornate sign above The Habit on McDowell and 7th Ave. says “My Florist” when no flower shop exists in this small strip center. My Florist opened in 1947 and was the centerpiece of the retail center until 1996 when it finally closed. The flower shop was owned by Vada Pearl Schwartz, a lively and eccentric woman who ran it until her death in 1966. She loved the color purple — so much so that she had a purple Cadillac custom built just for her. Vada was succeeded by her daughter, Norma Brooking, who kept the shop going until her death, at which time the business was taken over by the employees.
Vada commissioned the 3-story purple (of course!) sign from famous Phoenix neon sign designer Glenn Guyette. Guyette is well known around the Valley for signs such as the one atop the Valley National Bank headquarters, the Mr. Lucky’s sign on Grand Ave (still standing) and the “Let’s Eat!” sign of Bill Johnson’s Big Apple on Van Buren Street. According to a recent article on AZCentral, the Big Apple has been purchased by Maricopa Community College District, which will lease the property back to the restaurant for up to two years, after which time it will become a parking lot. No mention of the sign’s fate.
Just to the west of the 1947-era building housing My Florist is the older Hurley Building, constructed in two parts beginning in 1929 and added to the National Historic Register in 1985. The brick Art Deco building was the first retail center in Phoenix resulting from a new zoning ordinance calling for neighborhood commercial districts at major intersections of what otherwise was a residential area (and at the time, Willo was in the ‘burbs). The Hurley Building was the first commercial center of its kind to offer retail businesses within walking distance of neighborhood homes.
In 1996, both the Hurley and My Florist properties were purchased by a California investment-banker-turned baker named David Lacy who first opened the Willo Bakery, then turned the glass-fronted My Florist building into My Florist Café and eventually opened an organic grocery as well. The aptly named café was popular with locals and the neighborhood for over a decade until Lacy defaulted on the mortgage and lost the building. After sitting empty for several years, My Florist and The Hurley Building were redeveloped to include The Habit, Potbelly Subs and NYPD Pizza. The locally famous sign was not included in the original redevelopment plan, but residents fought hard to keep the sign in place. The iconic My Florist sign is a fine example of a vanishing American art form reminiscent of big cars, diners and a time before interstate highways crisscrossed the country.
This is part of a series of articles profiling interesting buildings on Willo’s borders. If you have a building or place of interest that you would like to see us research and write about, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.