Magpie & Thorn Blooms at Historic Towata Flower Shop

Thushan Amarasiriwardena     Above right, Maggie Adams, owner of Magpie & Thorn in her new store inside the historic Towata Flower shop on Santa Clara Avenue.
Thushan Amarasiriwardena

Magpie & Thorn Blooms at Historic Towata Flower Shop

The building is iconic — a greenhouse in the middle of town, emblazoned with green Vitrolite glass, and a double-take inducing neon sign: “flowers”. Only one thing would really fit here, a flower shop. This month it has become one once again.

The old John S. Towata Flowers store at 2305 Santa Clara Ave. near city hall, is re-blooming as Magpie & Thorn, by owner Maggie Adams. A high school media teacher for San Francisco Public Schools by day, and a green thumb by always, “this was destined to be,” she said while prepping the store for its opening last week.

Walking by it countless times, Adams, a rare plant lover, imagined her passion finding a chance to grow here. And it all fell into place during the pandemic.

Starting with pop-up plant sales at a parklet at Daisy’s Mercantile on Park Street, it was clear there was a sizable interest by others for these kinds of plants on the Island she said.

Jokingly, she mentioned her idea of starting a shop at the historic greenhouse to her friends, the owners of the now closed Tot Tank. “It’s my dream,” Adams told them. With seriousness, they said they knew the Towata family that still owned the building.

Vacant since 2019, the storefront most recently was a vintage furniture store. Before that, it was a flower shop for six decades run by John and Anna Towata, starting in 1945. Longtime florists on the Island, the Towatas previously had a store on Park Street. They were forced to leave it behind during World War II when they were interned in Topaz, Utah.

This all happened just days after John and Anna were married, according to the Alameda-centric podcast “Town” by local historian, Angelene Smith, which recently did an episode about the store and family (couldbeanytown.com).

After an intro last November to the Towata family, they agreed to rent the place after seeing her business plan, enthused by her goal of returning it to its original use. Adams, her husband and two children, spent the intervening months cleaning up and prepping the greenhouse to return to business.

Today it’s verdant, with a variety of exotic plants, blooming flowers, ceramics and other gifts. Much of the store’s furnishings are vintage — the counter to the old school cashiers register were found from old stores around the Bay. Other pieces are rejuvenated leftovers from the original flower shop.

Only the greenhouse is open for now. Adams has big ideas for the remaining spaces like the adjacent storefront. An eventual florist shop, terrarium creation space, and succulent section are planned. Adams said she aims to slowly expand, starting with opening only on the weekends — at least until the school year is over, with hours posted on their site, magpieandthorn.com.

As for the historic neon sign, she has eyes on that too. “It’s a community treasure,” she said. Non-operational today, once she’s gathered what it will take to repair the sign, Adams plans on raising funds via a GoFundMe and light it up once again.

Courtesy photo Below right, in 1991 City Council rededicated Bridgeview Park as Towata Park honoring lifelong Alamedan John S. Towata.