When he died in 1949, the Los Angeles Timesdubbed Yutaro Uyeda “Monrovia’s Strawberry King.” Yutaro planted acres of strawberries and was an integral part of Monrovia life before World War II. He was a community leader for the Japanese Americans of Monrovia.
Born in Japan in 1877, Yutaro traveled to Hawaii in 1903, lured by the promise of work. He came to the mainland shortly afterwards and found work laying tracks for Pacific Electric’s Monrovia-Glendora line. When that work led him to Monrovia around 1907, he stayed and began strawberry farming.
In 1919, Yutaro sent to Japan for a picture bride, Naka Shinohara. They were married and had three children, all born in Monrovia. Yutaro was able to use City land between Mayflower and Magnolia Avenues, just north of Huntington Drive, for strawberry fields. But Yutaro would often take advantage of other empty unused lots wherever he found them. If owners complained, he would give them flats of strawberries. Despite his broken English, he got along fine and everybody knew him.
The Oyedas owned a home at 331 West Huntington Drive. As the 1913 Alien Land Act prevented resident aliens from buying land, it was probably purchased in his American-born son Isamu’s name. Isamu died after being kicked by a horse when he was nine years old. Yutaro first used Japanese laborers from Los Angeles to help pick the strawberries, but that gave his wife Naka the responsibility to cook and feed them. The seasonal workers would sleep in Yutaro’s Monrovia garage.
Soon after, Yutaro started hiring his Mexican American neighbors who would go home for lunch and in the evenings. Yutaro helped build and sustain the Japanese language school on Mayflower Avenue, south of Duarte Road. His daughters, Toshiko and Mary, attended Santa Fe Elementary, Clifton, and MAD (Monrovia-Arcadia-Duarte) High School - and went straight to work each day after school. Yutaro had a special friend -Orman Good. Good was a neighbor on Lemon Avenue, and an agent for Standard Oil Company. Yutaro had a gas pump on this property and the two men became drinking buddies.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Yutaro was picked up by the Monrovia Police, at the behest of the FBI, and sent to a high security facility in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The FBI had identified and targeted Japanese community leaders around California. Mary said, “The Monrovia police seemed kind of embarrassed because they knew my dad. I was 18 years old and forced to leave my schooling at Pasadena Junior College.” Executive Order 9066 forced Monrovia’s Japanese to evacuate to the detention center at the Pomona Fairgrounds. From there, they were transported to Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming. Mary said, “The most humiliating part for me was being forced to wear numbered tags while standing in line at the Pomona Fairgrounds.” Orman Good looked after the Uyedas’ Monrovia property. “We gave the Goods our sugar rations and Mrs. Good brought us cookies while we were at Pomona Detention Center. Mr. Good would send us money from leasing out our home. He had been given power of attorney. Mr. Good picked us up – along with the Asanos – from the Monrovia train station when we returned from camp. We had a hard time evicting our tenants so we lived in the garage for a while,” said Mary. Mary’s daughter, Keiko, added, “For years, my father would bring a box of fruits and vegetables to the Goods. They, in turn, would bake us date nut and orange breads, a real treat for us children.”
The Uyedas returned to Monrovia after World War II. Toshiko and her new husband, Yoshito Sakatani, lived in the front house on Huntington Drive. Mary and her new husband, Masato Sakatani, lived in a converted garage off of the main house. Mary and Toshiko had married brothers from El Monte.
Yutaro died in 1949. Mary and her family moved to Walnut Avenue in Monrovia, and Toshiko and her family moved to Baldwin Park. Naka gained her naturalized citizenship in 1955. There are still Sakatanis living in Monrovia.
Written by Susie Ling