Immigrants are the lifeblood of America, bringing energy, enthusiasm and enterprise to their adopted land. On this blog I have highlighted some stories of immigrants who settled in Wedgwood in northeast Seattle and who became active participants in the neighborhood. This blog post will tell about the Italian-American family who founded Rosaia Brothers Florists in Seattle.
Ray Giusti & his wife Laura Rosaia were first-generation Italian-Americans and in the 1920s they were the first Rosaia family members to move to Wedgwood. They joined the neighborhood’s log cabin Catholic chapel. By the 1950s Ray & Laura had seen their parish grow into the present Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church. By the 1950s Laura’s siblings had also become residents of Wedgwood.
The Rosaia family comes to America
Eugenio Rosaia was in his early forties when he left his home in Tuscany, Italy, in 1885 and traveled to San Francisco, California. As soon as he got settled in San Francisco and established his florist business, he sent for his wife Filomena and their four children, who joined him in 1887. In California the Rosaia family grew to five sons and four daughters.
From California to Seattle
On April 18, 1906 an earthquake of magnitude 7.9 hit the city of San Francisco. About 80% of the city was destroyed either by the earthquake itself or by the fires which followed. In part because of this event, the sons of Eugenio Rosaia began planning to start a new branch of their florist business in another up-and-coming city, Seattle. Hearing of the plans for a world’s fair event in Seattle, the Rosaias knew that the event would provide a good start for their floral arrangements company.
The three eldest Rosaia sons, Palmiro (age 32), Felix (30) and George (24) set out for Seattle. Beginning in that year of 1906, the Rosaia brothers began laying the groundwork for their florist business in Seattle by establishing nurseries and greenhouses for the plants and flowers that they would need.
The AYPE in Seattle is set for 1909
By 1908 all of Seattle was caught up in preparations for a big event intended to showcase the resources of Seattle and its trade connections with Alaska, Japan and other Pacific Rim nations.
The worlds-fair type event had first been planned to be held in 1907 on the ten-year anniversary of the “ton of gold” ship arrival in Seattle, July 17, 1897, which set off the Yukon Gold Rush. After learning that other cities were having worlds-fair events during 1905 to 1907, Seattle organizers made the decision to hold their event in 1909.
This decision to delay created more time for planning and preparation, leading to a very successful event. The world’s fair to be held from June to October 1909, on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle, was to be called the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE).
The AYPE and the development of northeast Seattle
The decision was made to hold the AYPE on the campus of the University of Washington, which was undeveloped at that time. The university had originally been located at Fourth & University Street in downtown Seattle, present site of the Fairmont Olympic Hotel.
The university moved to northeast Seattle in 1895 but it languished for more than ten years because the state legislature would not allocate funds for buildings on the campus. Selection of the university campus for the AYP Exposition finally loosened the purse strings of the state legislature. They appropriated money to sponsor the exposition, to include four permanent buildings which would be used by the university after the fair.
Once the site of the university was selected for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a frenzy of development took place not only on the university campus itself, but in the surrounding district. The residential district near the university had been called Brooklyn and was like a village, with its unpaved streets and lack of utilities.
In preparation for the AYPE, streetcar lines were laid from downtown Seattle out to the University of Washington. The original purpose of the pergola in Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle, was for visitors to the AYPE to get on the streetcar there.
Many other improvements were made in preparation for the AYPE, such as installation of electric streetlights. It was at this time that the term “University District” began to be used so that visitors to the city could easily identify where they wanted to go, to visit the AYPE.
The AYPE was held from June 1 to October 16, 1909 with strong attendance and with money left over after the final tallying of expenses. For the Rosaia Brothers Florists, the AYPE was the launching of their Seattle business. After doing floral decorations at the AYPE, the brothers established florist shops in downtown Seattle as a family business which would last for more than seventy years.
The Palmiro Rosaia family moves to Wallingford
By or before 1920 the eldest Rosaia brother, Palmiro, moved his family to the corner of 45th & Woodlawn (present site of a gas station) in the Wallingford neighborhood. This convenient location made it possible for the children to walk to Interlake School (elementary) and to Lincoln High School. Palmiro & Mary’s family grew to include eight children with the last, Richard, born in 1922. Later that same year Palmiro & Mary’s eldest child, Laura, married Ray Giusti.
Ray & Laura take the family business into the next generation
Ray & Laura Giusti were in the vanguard of the next generation of the Rosaia business as American-born descendants of the founders.
Like Laura, who had been born in California before her father brought the family to Seattle, Ray Giusti was a first-generation American. He had been born in Buffalo, New York, of Italian immigrant parents. His father Pio was a building contractor and, like the Rosaia brothers, he had been attracted to come to Seattle because of the AYPE in 1909, with the great amount of work opportunities generated by the preparations for the event. The families of Ray & Laura both lived in Wallingford and we may guess that the couple met at school or at church.
Ray Giusti married into the Rosaia Brothers Florist business and he became an integral part of it. By the 1950s Ray was president of Rosaia Brothers and was its public face, representing the company in business contacts and civic engagements. Laura Giusti appeared in photos and news articles featuring floral designs for events such as in this news photo of April 1938, floral arrangements at the Music Hall Theater for a beauty show.
Ray & Laura Giusti establish a home in the (future) Wedgwood
After their marriage in 1922, Ray & Laura found a site for their family home in a real estate development called Morningside Heights, in what is now the northwest quadrant of the Wedgwood neighborhood.
The Morningside Heights developers were well-known early Seattleites, Burwell & Morford. They were the first realtors to advertise a development in what would later be called the Wedgwood neighborhood. The developers put in streets from NE 90th to 95th, 25th to 35th Avenues NE and they advertised the conveniences of the community. NE 95th Street connected with Victory Way (Lake City Way NE) and there seemed to be the assumption that Morningside Heights residents would own cars and would drive to work.
Some attractive features near Morningside Heights were that there was a new, brick elementary school building called Maple Leaf at the corner of NE 100th Street & 32nd Ave NE.
For access to stores, the Morningside Market was at 9118 35th Ave NE and a small commercial district grew up at the intersection of NE 95th Street & 35th Ave NE.
Ray & Laura’s house at 2700 NE 91st Street was built over several years’ time and was completely finished by 1932. Slowdowns in the work may have been caused by the death of Ray’s father Pio Giusti in 1930, who as a contractor may have been helping with building the house.
Ray & Laura’s brick Tudor-style house was of a type often built by Seattle contractors circa 1928-1930 but it was unusual in Wedgwood, where there were few stucco or brick houses. Examples of clusters of these brick Tudor houses can more typically be found in nearby neighborhoods such as Bryant by the Northeast Branch Library.
The Rosaia Brothers Florists business blooms in Seattle
Palmiro Rosaia and the two brothers next to him in age, Felix and George, were ages 36, 33, and 28 at the time of the AYP “worlds fair” event in 1909, and they spent the rest of their lives working in the florist business in Seattle. It is interesting to note that their sisters, the daughters of the Eugenio Rosaia family, stayed in California but all five Rosaia brothers eventually came to Seattle, including the two youngest, Silvio and Peter. Silvio stayed a few years and then returned to California to take up the family business there upon the death of the patriarch, Eugenio.
Numerous immigrants, many Italian but some other nationalities as well, got their start at Rosaia Brothers Florists when they first came to the USA. The company had a broad outreach including Seattle’s black community, as represented in Rosaia ads in The Northwest Enterprise newspaper for the floral arrangements at weddings, funerals and church programs.
The Rosaia Florist store at Third & Madison (Felix Rosaia) had a doorman, a black man, Ralph Lindsay Jones, who was a veteran of World War One. When Mr. Jones died suddenly in 1939 at age 46, it was listed in The Northwest Enterprise newspaper of Seattle’s black community that the floral arrangements for his memorial service were donated by Rosaia Brothers Florists where Jones had worked.
Italians in Seattle’s business community
Over the decades the members of Rosaia family were very active in the business community in Seattle. Rosaia brothers helped start the Italian Club of Seattle in 1920, intended originally as a commercial club where the members would network with one another. Felix Rosaia was one of the founders at the first meeting when the Italian Club was organized.
Of the three eldest Rosaia brothers Palmiro, Felix and George, Felix lived the longest. He died at age 76 in 1952, collapsing on the sidewalk just steps from his Third & Madison Street florist shop after leaving work one evening. It was noted that he had started his business in 1906 with a flower stand at Second & James Street and had been a Seattle florist for more than forty years.
At the time that eldest brother Palmiro Rosaia died in 1943 at age 69, two of his sons were in active military service in World War Two. Fred was fighting in Italy with the Army Air Forces, and the youngest of Palmiro’s sons, Richard, was in the Marine Corps in the South Pacific. There is no greater contribution and sacrifice of immigrant families when they offer their own sons to serve in this way.
Rosaia family members were active in many business groups, community organizations and in their Catholic parish. The earliest to live in the Wedgwood neighborhood, Laura Rosaia and her husband Ray Giusti, were among the first parishioners at the log cabin Catholic church in Wedgwood as of 1929, located at about NE 81st Street.
The Chapel of St. Ignatius began in 1929 when the Jesuits of Seattle University bought forty acres, intending to move the university to the site. That plan never was fulfilled, and in 1941 the Jesuits sold the property to Albert Balch, the developer who became the “father of Wedgwood.” Balch’s first group of Wedgwood houses from NE 80th to 85th Streets, 30th to 35th Avenues NE, eventually gave their name to the neighborhood.
Rosaia family members migrate to Wedgwood
By the 1950s Palmiro Rosaia’s widow Mary and her children, including Laura, all lived in Wedgwood. Frank, the brother who was closest to Laura in age, lived a block away from Ray & Laura. Ray Giusti’s widowed mother Lillian lived with Ray & Laura at 2700 NE 91st Street.
Nancy Rosaia (ten years younger than her sister Laura) and her husband Joseph Getz were known in the neighborhood for working out of their home at 3825 NE 87th Street. On the back of the house there was a large workroom with tables and cabinets for floral supplies. Periodically the lavender-color Rosaia delivery trucks would stop by to pick up the floral arrangements created by Joseph & Nancy.
It is interesting to note that both Nancy Getz and her eldest sister Laura Giusti had two listings in the phone book, one under Rosaia and one for their married names, which was unusual for women in the 1930s and 1940s. Each of them continued to work for and represent the Rosaia Brothers Florists even after they were married.
The youngest of Palmiro & Mary’s children, Richard P. Rosaia, went into the construction business and advertised that he was a contractor. He built a house at 7710 30th Ave NE where his mother Mary and the two unmarried Rosaia siblings, Irene and Fred, lived.
Richard Rosaia and his family lived at 3815 NE 86th Street and he built several houses on NE 86th and 87th Street, including 3825 NE 87th for his sister Nancy and her husband Joseph Getz.
Another house in Wedgwood for which Richard Rosaia was the contractor, was 8033B 45th Ave NE, built in 1981 (architect Glenn Mattson.) Richard Rosaia became known for working with architects of Northwest Modern styles and for setting houses in “difficult” sites as this one, on the edge of a ravine. He also built the Rosaia Condos building at 12300 33rd Ave NE.
Business changes in Seattle
When Laura Giusti died in 1989 it was noted that Rosaia Brothers Florists had closed the year before. The company once operated greenhouses in Kent and Des Moines, and flower shops in the Olympic Hotel and several other locations in downtown Seattle.
In recent years we have seen the closure or sale of longtime family-owned companies in Seattle, such as Bartell Drugstores which has been sold to Rite-Aid. We have also seen once-successful businesses such as restaurants close down due to catastrophic challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic. Over time, some kinds of products and businesses close down or they change their form, such as the on-line shopping which has replaced some kinds of in-person businesses. I don’t know why the Rosaia Brothers Florists, once so successful, closed down in 1988 but we know that Rosaia Brothers has descendants still living, who were influenced by its strong family heritage and its history in Seattle’s business community.
Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition: Washington’s First World’s Fair, by Alan J. Stein, Paula Becker & the HistoryLink Staff, 2009.
Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition slide show, HistoryLink Essay #7082.
Census, city directory listings and newspaper search via genealogy resources accessed through the Seattle Public Library website.
“Felix Rosaia Funeral,” Seattle Daily Times, April 1, 1952, page 29.
“History Bits: the Rosaia Family,” Wedgwood Community Newsletter, July 2004.
Italian Club of Seattle – history.
Our Lady of the Lake, 8900 35th Ave NE, history records of the parish.
“Palmiro Rosaia Rites Planned,” Seattle Daily Times, October 10, 1943, page 11.
“V.F.W. Honors Ralph Jones at Graveside Service,” The Northwest Enterprise Newspaper, 26 July 1939, page 1, University of Washington newspapers on microfilm.
Yukon Gold Rush – this event which started in 1897 had a major impact upon Seattle, lifting the city out of an economic depression and creating trade connections which still exist today. Recommended is a visit to the Klondike Gold Rush Visitor Center & Museum, which is a national park site in downtown Seattle.