Throwback Thursday: A Flower Shop That Was Out of This World

By John Elari

Once upon a time in what now seems like another world, there was a little flower shop on Columbus and 73rd Street  between the years of 1974 and 1984 that sold great flowers, but came to fame for window displays its owner did on a rotating basis. It was called “the Cultured Seed, Theatre of Flowers” and earned its sobriquet for major productions it dedicated to Broadway shows, their stars, a film or two, current events, slide presentations of trips to Egypt and Kenya, holidays, and any other whimsical fantasies he conjured up.

A favorite of its many fans and passersby was a display of God’s work studio on “the Third Day” of creating the world, and of working on plants and flowers. A huge drafting desk with an architecturally-detailed drawing of an iris attached faced the street; three other finished drawings were on a side wall, and surrounded by many plants. A coffee mug inscribed with “God” sat nearby.

Just inside the window on a long shelf stood other plants, vases of other flowers and reminder notes to Himself: “I’ll call these snapdragons; I’ll do them in pink, yellow and white.” “I’ll call these onions; they’ll make your eyes tear, but they’ll be great in salads.” “These I’ll call African Violets.” Amid this, a yellow pad where God wrote His notes on the psychic energy resplendent in flowers and a spot-lit title page of the actual text of “the Third Day” from the Bible.

In a completely opposite direction the owner once did a slide presentation for Valentine’s Day called “Pumping Roses” in which he photographed an African American bodybuilder in white Speedo putting together a nosegay with lace doily of red roses, baby’s breath and red ribbon – and then assumed competitive-like poses as the rear projected slides rotated.

“The Cultured Seed” was an actual little theatre with professional lighting, sets built and borrowed, props, and many stories told through flowers. For Christmas they hung their tree upside-down from a 17’ high ceiling on which unopened gifts had been stapled, put the tree on a motor so it would revolve, and a rotating disco ball on the floor underneath.

The “Seed” came to Columbus at a time when the Upper West Side was on the verge of eruption, and then were accused of contributing to its rampant gentrification by opening a first upscale business. And the owner did so on a mere ten-thousand dollar investment, an unheard-of ten-year lease, and a monthly rent of just $575. Yes, once upon a time in what now seems like another world, there was a little flower shop called “the Cultured Seed, Theatre of Flowers” in NYC, where its owner did many outrageous window displays. How do I know? I’m that owner. My name is John Elari.

John Elari is a longtime Upper West Sider who still lives in the same one-room, rent-stabilized, West 74th Street apartment he rented in 1966 — has seen it all, and has written a book about it: “Fifty Years and Counting: One Man’s Journey through a Half-Century Living in New York City, 1965-2015” with photographs. It’s a side-by-side history of his life and history of the city in which he has chosen to live woven through. It’s an eBook only and can be downloaded to your Kindle or computer screen by merely typing his name into Amazon.com. There are two anonymous reviews posted.

Photos via John Elari.

COLUMNS, HISTORY | 27 comments | permalink
    1. Catherine Arcure says:

      Flower shops do make a difference. The outdoor arrangement, including a great red bench surrounded by planting’s is all part of Flowers on the Park on 86 near Columbus. Owner Avi and his staff do a spectacular job with windows as well as displays inside and out!

    2. John Elari says:

      Wow. I can’t wait to read John Elari’s book. Oh wait, I wrote it because I’m John Elari. Take a look folks; I think you may get hooked into the history of my life, the Upper West Side and NYC. I get no financial remuneration.

      • Madd Donna says:

        Can’t wait to read your book!! I’ve been obsessed with the history of the neighborhood. Moved here in 1992. My parents lived together in a couple of apartments in the late 1950’s / early 1960’s too. For all I know we’ve passed each other on the street over the years.

      • Madd Donna says:

        Oh well…really wanted to read it but I don’t do the Kindle thing nor want to be forced to pay $9.99 month for their scam of a free trial. Sick of marketing trickery all over the place.

      • Mark says:

        Blessings upon you good sir. I remember your shop. I first moved to the UWS in 1973, worked at Cake Masters as a bakery clerk and walked uptown on Columbus to my flat on W. 80th street. It was always a joy to look in your windows. I was too poor for flowers at the time, but your windows gave me great pleasure.

    3. Barbara Fight says:

      Moved to NYC a few years after it closed. Wish I had been here to see it. My grandpa was the President of the New York Horticultural Society for years.
      Missing special shops like this on the Upper West. Beautiful post, John. I definitely will download your book.

    4. Freya says:

      What a wonderful look back to this unique & lovely shop. I’ll be looking for your book on my Kindle. Thanks for the memories!

    5. Vivi Teston says:

      EXTRAORDINARY/ BRILLIANT / CREATIVE and more Importantly Touches a Deep Part of my Being and Heart ! Iam an Artist and more than 40 plus years in the floral industry..With So much changing in our floral world Iam thrilled to read and see Your story , albeit Virtual ! Kudos / Grazie

    6. Kathleen Treat says:

      Such sweet memories The Cultured Seed brings back…of sometimes perilous times. The Seed was a bulwark of beauty, of aesthetic joy. Thank you for this important article, John. Good to know that you’re still here!

    7. rafaela says:

      I’m so happy!

    8. Jenna says:

      Looking forward to reading more posts from you about life in the UWS via the west side rag! Thanks for sharing.

    9. Kathleen says:

      This exact area of the UWS I have recently fallen in love with. Such an affinity I feel for this place. Sounds like a good read!

    10. bookworm says:

      Thank you, John Elari! How wonderful! I will definitely read your book! I can’t wait! 😀

    11. Judy Hough says:

      Flower shop are amazing the Arrangements they do from the smallest one the the over the top are out of this world. I used to work in a Flower shop and the designers we awesome they can come up with something special every time Royal Garden s flower and Curtis flowers Flint and Grand Blanc Michigan. I haven’t been to New York but I planning a trip soon. And why you I would visit a flower shop it’s like an art gallery

    12. Judy Hough says:

      Everyone was to see something Beautiful special and a work of art flower shop today is in important as now just like back when they first open and whoever has the first flower shop is an art gallery with all you need is your imagination

    13. Barbara P. says:

      Awesome post. Go John Elari!!

    14. ben says:

      Just to be clear – if you moved into your apartment in 1966 then you are not rent-stabilized. You are rent-controlled.

    15. micki says:

      I loved learning about this flower shop, and am only sorry that I didn’t know about it, as I live on 96 Street, a world away.

    16. Cato says:

      A great, great post. Thanks, John.

      But please brace yourself for the inevitable comment here demanding that you move, immediately, to an outer borough or Indiana or somewhere else out of sight so that your rent-controlled apartment can be released to the teeming masses of bankers demanding market-rate housing and freeing your landlord to make scads and scads more money from the space.

      But, when that comment gets posted, please remember that there are many here (including me) who are happy you are still our neighbor.

    17. Lis Anderson says:

      I remember The Cultured Seed. I also was part of the W. 74th Street Block Assn. when John was President. Somewhere I have a picture of John counting money from one of our Block Parties. Those were truly the good old days when we planted trees and replaced the street lights. We even cleaned up flower beds. Missing the good old days of playing volleyball on the block (when we had the blackout).

    18. Jhminnyc says:

      One of the happiest articles I’ve ever read in the West Side Rag. Thank you for highlighting a shop and man who represent the creativity and joy of life this great city can allow to flourish. It’s such a big part of why so many of us choose to live here. Hats off for a great article and photos.

    19. Richard Y says:

      John, I look forward to reading your book. I have never been to the west side, I lived in york, PA for 47 yrs. I never lived outside of york county located in southcentral pa just an hr north of baltimore,md. I have been in the floral business as a designer since 1981. I now live in council bluffs, IA , were i met and married my husband sept 18 2013 4 days after my 50th Birthday and 4 days before his 25th birthday. I thank you for taking the time to write your book and to preserve the history of your neighbourhood and of your business and your life. So very much of our history is lost on a daily basis. Thanks again for writing this article and I can’t wait to download your ebook and start reading it. Many Blessings to you.

    20. Susan Behrens says:

      I love this. I was a florist for many years and know that once you create one thing.. Your mind creates another and another. Thank you so much for sharing your heart and the theater of your mind and soul.

    21. martha says:

      I remember this shop very well!! Worked on W 72 and passed it nearly every day. Often bought a bouquet and lingered to admire. Thank you for your creativity, vision and extravagance, John. My home was the UWS for 35 years during its golden era!