It is certainly not every day that a community celebrates one of its residents with elaborate gifts and a special ceremony that draws thousands upon thousands of people. But such was the case 125 years ago, when a special ceremony attended by about 30,000 people was held for Margaret Crocker.
Arranged by city citizens and officials, a festival of flowers was held on the afternoon and evening of May 6, 1885 to honor Margaret Crocker, the widow of Edwin Bryant Crocker, who assembled a grand collection of art pieces that would later be used in forming what is known today as the Crocker Art Museum.
On its own merit, Margaret’s decision to gift the art gallery to the city of Sacramento and the California Museum Association “in trust for the public” would have been more than a sufficient cause to celebrate this gracious citizen.
But the donation of the gallery, which Margaret would make official during the festival, represented only part of her many contributions to Sacramento.
Right here in the Land Park area, for instance, Margaret donated a large tract of land by deed on June 25, 1880 for the purpose of expanding the acreage of the city cemetery.
Bell Conservatory/Bell Florist
Two years earlier, Margaret had a large greenhouse structure, which was known as the Bell Conservatory, constructed north of the city cemetery for the purpose of supplying flowers that could be sold to those who desired to decorate the graves of their relatives.
And for those who desired to do the same, but could not afford to purchase flowers, the Bell Conservatory, which was located on property bounded by 9th, 10th, W and Y (present day Broadway) streets, originally donated flowers to such citizens.
Built for $38,000 and featuring colored glass that was ordered through Tifanny’s in New York and shipped from Belgium, the Bell Conservatory, which specialized in cut flowers and garden and greenhouse plants, was operated by the Geisreiter family during the majority of its existence.
On Oct. 30, 1884, The Sacramento Daily Record-Union announced that Margaret was having a 54-foot by 85-foot structure, which would mainly be used for cultivating high quality roses, constructed on the conservatory grounds.
According to city directories, John McCallum served as the superintendent of the Bell Conservatory during at least the mid-1880s, and by the late 1880s, nurseryman, farmer and Illinois native Michael Joel Dillman, who resided at 1420 O St., was managing the business.
Dillman and German immigrant Eugene Geisreiter, who shared an office at 607 J St., later partnered in the ownership of the Bell Conservatory.
By at least 1900, however, Dillman was living at 2025 M Street (today’s Capitol Avenue) and was serving as the vice president and manager of the Capital Telephone and Telegraph Co. at 918-920 5th St.
It was around this time that the Geisreiter family began its full proprietorship of the Bell Conservatory, which had the longtime slogan of “floral designs shipped to all points.”
Like McCallum, the Geisreiter family resided on the grounds of the Bell Conservatory, which was under the sole proprietorship of Eugene Geisreiter from about 1900 to his death in 1930.
Eugene Geisreiter’s son, Hubert Eugene “Bert” Geisreiter (1905-1987), who lived on the conservatory grounds with his wife Elsa (Jurgens) Geisreiter, who was the sister of the local band leader Dick Jurgens, owned the business from 1931 to 1956.
According to the March 23, 1934 edition of The Sacramento Bee, one of the old Bell Conservatory buildings was replaced by a brick, white-washed structure, which was accompanied by the garden grounds and hothouses.
An open house for the business’s new display rooms and floral shop was held on Saturday and Sunday, March 24 and 25, 1934.
Bert Geisreiter’s son, Richard E. “Dick” Geisreiter, who was raised at 10th and X streets and graduated from McClatchy High School in 1946, said that he believes that the original conservatory building was torn down in the mid-1950s.
A Safeway grocery store building, which now houses the Sacramento Works Career Center at 915 Broadway, was constructed in about 1958 in the approximate location of the 1885 conservatory structure.
In about 1947, Bell Conservatory was renamed Bell Florist and was moved to a new location within the same block.
In about 1961, the florist relocated to 4420 Del Rio Road, where it would operate for about four more years. And a few years following this closure, Dick Geisreiter moved to Mendocino.
In addition to his connection to the Bell Conservatory and Bell Florist, Bert Geisreiter was also known for his involvement in local politics.
A last moment candidate for mayor, Bert Geisreiter eventually served as the city’s mayor from 1950 to 1951 and altogether, he served for nine years on the city council.
Richard E. “Dick” Geisreiter operated the florist from about the mid or late 1950s to the closure of the business.
Despite the absence of the old Bell Conservatory and later Bell Florist, a link to these businesses still exists through the Dixon Florist, which was founded in the city of Dixon in 1962 by Joe Williams, a former Bell Florist employee.
The Marguerite Home
Another one of Margaret Crocker’s local contributions was the Marguerite Home at 1617 7th St.
On the evening of her 60th birthday on Feb. 25, 1884, Margaret formerly opened the home for “aged gentlewomen” of limited means.
A previous effort to build such a home on a quarter block of land at 9th and W streets had been unsuccessful, which led to Margaret’s work to purchase the north side of Q Street, between 7th and 8th streets, and have the Marguerite Home established at the site.
The plans for the Marguerite Home were drawn by Nathaniel Goodell, who had gained much notoriety in Sacramento during the previous decade for his work as the architect of Albert Gallatin’s mansion, which later became the Governor’s Mansion at 1526 H St., and the renovation of Leland Stanford’s mansion at 800 N St.
Goodell designed the 24-bedroom, well-furnished Marguerite home as a remodeling project using a two-story house that was already present on the property when Margaret acquired it.
The entire project, which was completed at a cost of $130,000, was under the supervision of Michael Joel Dillman’s father, W.P. Dillman.
Features of the home included a parlor and reception room, a kitchen, a linen room, a sewing room and a fireplace in every room.
A brick building that was already present on the property was restructured as a laundry room with storerooms.
The remaining portion of the property was laid out with walks, trees, flowers and shrubbery.
As the day finally arrived when residents of the city and beyond gathered to pay tribute to Margaret Crocker for her many contributions, the free-of-charge floral festival would prove to be one of the grandest events in the city’s history.