Lets take a Wash Down Memory Lane

By Phyllis Badgley

Most of us are familiar with the adage "being taken to the cleaners" through deceit or trickery. The opposite connotation arises as we do business with our local dry-cleaning firm. We are treated courteously and receive honest, dependable service in Baker City.

Dry cleaning is a process older than I am, and that is ancient! My friend Methuselah can verify that.

During the Great Depression, my mother was by necessity frugal and limited sending clothes to commercial cleaners. Gingham and feed sacks of the 1930s were laundered at home. Heavily soiled spots were given washboard treatment with a bar of Fels-Naptha, then tossed into a wringer-type washing machine.

Selected woolen garments mother cleaned using gasoline in a galvanized tub set up outdoors. Afterwards the clothing was thoroughly aired for several days until the odor dissipated.

Taffeta, chiffon, silk and voile were considered luxury fabrics, therefore were scarce in our household. They required special treatment from dry cleaners. Occasional mishaps did occur at the professional level with these fabrics. I've been told of a 1920 wedding dress sent to the cleaners and returned with spangles that had unfortunately melted in the process.

Restitution was made and goodwill prevailed.

Sending the weekly wash to the laundry was not an affordable option for our family in the 1930s. However, the neighbor methodically on Monday morn placed a clothes bundle shrouded in a sheet on her front porch to be picked up and "taken to the cleaner." As part of the service, laundry personnel replaced missing buttons on garments and repaired worn areas at no extra charge.

Infrequently, when mother used the commercial service, the freshly cleaned garment was delivered enveloped in a white paper bag with red-lettered advertising printed on it. Plastic bags would come later.

An additional opportunity for advertising was ads placed on hangers. Old-time wooden hangers provided burned-on lettering showing the name and phone number of the cleaners. Wire hangers had cardboard inserts that curled around the hanger, like those residing in my closet advertising Crown Cleaners. Directors of the business were Paul York, L. E. Colombari, Harold Staten and Jim York.

Today we can choose fancy padded hangers made of satin as the ultimate luxury for m'ladies special gowns. These desirable hangers contain delicate fragrance akin to baby talc. A. nice addition to any closet.

Plastic-molded hangers are now available and widely used in places where "public hangings" (pun intended) occur.

Have you received hangers that were dressed up in knitted yarn? Clever individuals handcraft these coverings in knit or crocheted texture, designed to keep the garment from slipping off the hanger.

Spring-type clothespins work well as skirt hangers-just clip them over a wire hanger. When metal clamps are not available, the "wooden clothespin detail" is also effective for hanging men's trousers by the cuff.

In the 1930's the XL Laundry utilized the former brewery location on Dewey Avenue. This brick structure was later torn down, and some of the material used in construction of the Carl Silven home by the Powder River on Myrtle Street.

Following World War II, local contractor Ernest Stoddard built a half dozen homes on the former brewery site. Three of these homes presently face the Dewey Avenue underpass.

Crown Cleaners evolved from the Silven XL Laundry. For an interim it was known as Williams Cleaners. Present owners operate under the name of Oregon Trail Cleaners at 1935 Valley Ave.
Throughout the years, establishments gave calendars in appreciation for customer business. In 1940 Burke Cleaners (in their 44th year) gave dry-point etched pictured to be framed. One all-time favorite was "Age of Innocence" by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Another titled "Sympathy" showed a boy and his dog, by artist J. Knowles Hare. Burke cleaners was located west of Powder River at 134 Bridge St. (present location of the Bridge Street Inn).

During the 1950's, Sam Elskamp acquired proprietorship of Burke's and named it Peerless Cleaners. Anna Frericks was a long-time employee of peerless. The establishment later met its demise

ad the Hereford Motel was erected on that site. One incident I recall about the Burke family was that Henry Burke suffered a fatal heart attack while shoveling snow at his residence in the 2300 block on First Street. Dorothy Burke, an attractive blonde, was a popular student at Baker High School in the late 1930s.

Several additional dry cleaner businesses come to mind, but are no longer in operation. One was a small plant established by the late Jerry Longwell and his wife, Wilberta. It was located on College Street just off Fourth. After Jerry's ill health forced closure in the later years, the structure was remodeled into a private residence.

S. H. Hyde located his Nu-Way cleaning business and 11th and Carter. He and his wife embraced Adventist faith and advertised no Saturday delivery. While Hyde's daughter was on a mission in Beruit, her parents shared stamps from the Lebanese correspondence, thereby enhancing my collection.

Baker City's only drive-in dry cleaners was owned and operated by "Bud" and Louise Todd in the 3100 block of Tenth Street. A driveup window on the south side of the building served customers who wanted to remain in their car, yet pick up their laundered garments Todds operated the cleaners from 1970 to 1977 before selling to Mike Williams, then "bud" and Louise moved Alaska for several years. The cleaner building was razed when the federal offices were constructed.
With new era nylon and the advent of wash and wear fabrics, undoubtedly fewer garments are "taken to the cleaners." However, today's establishments offer additional diverse services (such as tuxedo rental) which were not available in yesteryear. Coin-operated self-service laundries now in vogue offer added convenience.

One might muse that dry cleaners have "all the solutions" and their cleaning process remains "solvent!"

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