23rd Avenue, 1928 2

The Contra Costa Laundry was a long-time laundry business, established in the 1850s. Its first location was in the hills east of Brooklyn in the valley known for decades afterward as Laundry Farm (today's Leona Heights). The terrible winter of 1861–2 washed out the original location, and the laundry was relocated to the southwest corner of Kirkham and 14th Street. In the 1920s it was moved to 23rd Avenue and East 7th Street.

The exact year of their founding isn't known. It was founded 1851 by its own reckoning in 1925. 1,11 Other sources put its founding in 1853 (1928), 21855 (1897), or 1859 (1902). The article stating it was founded in 1859 says it was founded by J.C. Davis at Laundry Farm. 3

Kirkham and 14th Street Plant

Elvin and Frank Loomer, 1890 15

When the original location was washed away, William H. Bovee, former mayor of Oakland, had in interest in it at that point, and moved to 14th and Kirkham. 3 In 1866, he sold it to Pliny Bartlett, George H. Hallett, and P. Edwards Dalton, and the firm formally became known as the Contra Costa Laundry Association. 4

Employees listed in the 1869 directory include:

  • Pliny Bartlett was the proprietor of the Contra Costa Laundry, resided on the northeast corner of 7th and Pine Streets.
  • Listed as 'Laundryman' were the following:  George Alley, S. Aring, Abel Baker, C. M. Bartlett, C. Blodget, D. Bowen, D. Bridden, James Butler, Eugene Callahan, E. Carrey, Edward Dalton, J. Dart, A. Drissell, Gustave Dussell, H. J. Eaton, William Eaton, C. Ellwood, William Elwood, C. Emery, Lucius Emery, John Flynn, Henry T. Gibson, James Gormley, John Grady, W. Greeving, Thos. Hale, J. R. Halleck, John R. Hallett, M. P. Hanson, Julius Harris, William Harris, Wm. E. Hayes, Wm. Haynes, Martin Horner, Thomas Huggins, J. B. Kelly, H. Kohler, James Lawton, J. Leopold, Joseph Lippold, L. Luther, J. Lynch, Charles McCarthy, J. E. McCarthy, John McCarty, J. McCauley, Wm. McCracken, Barney McFarland, C. McPharland, C. Murdock, Calvin Murdock, George Murdock, Geo. L. Murdock, Henry Murdock, H. J. Murdock, Philip Muscat, P. Museave, E. O'Callaghan, H. Olsen, Chas. Patenski, G. T. Pilgrim, C. Rouff, C. Schoot, Martin Sears, F. Shailer, R. W. Van Syckle, H. Van Syckle, C. Voltz, John West, and M. Wilson. [I think there are some duplicates]
  • There were fewer women employed as laundresses:  Miss Maria P. Bartlett, Miss Ellen Bass, Mrs. Mary Hogan, Miss Maggie Jones, Miss Eliza O'Neil. [ There are likely fewer because fewer women were listed in the directories in general, especially young women still living with their parents ]
  • H. E. Bartlett, foreman, residence corner of 14th and Kirkham Streets.
  • Thomas T. Hale, clerk
  • Albert S. Vansyckle, Contra Costa Laundry office, Broadway between 7th and 8th Streets, resided in Oakland Point

In addition to the Kirkham location, the 1872 directory lists offices on Broadway between 7th and 8th, and the NW corner of Railroad Avenue (7th St.) and Pine.

An ad in 1876 strongly declared that they employed white labor only, and "have never employed Chinamen" as some other laundries did. 5 An 1882 brevity notes that "About 150 white men and women are employed in the Contra Costa Laundry." (1882 was the year the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed.)

A brief mention in 1886 says the laundry washed all of the Pullman sleeping car linens. An 1887 article, "An Interesting Description of Clothes Washed by Wholesale," notes that they employed about 250 people. There was an office in San Francisco, and the company owned more land at Adeline and 7th for future use. 6

A "disastrous" fire in 1889 threatened to shut down the works for some months, but a little over a month later they were employing their full force of 300 workers. 7,8

Working in the laundry was surprisingly dangerous in those days. In addition to limbs or clothing getting caught in machinery, and the danger of burns from heated equipment, sometimes the equipment exploded. One afternoon the mangle, a large heated machine used for pressing linens, suddenly burst. Mary Rogers was killed almost instantly, and 15-year old Annie Martin was badly injured. It was expected that she might die from her injuries, but she eventually recovered. A coroner's inquest ruled that the machine had been "imperfectly constructed." 9,10

By the 1902 Sanborn map, the laundry occupied the entire block between 13th, 14th, Kirkham, and Cypress, including where Cypress would have run if it went through. In 1902, it was sold by Bartlett, Hallett, and Dalton. 4

Kirkham and 14th St., 1912 Sanborn excerpt

In 1918, the laundry was owned by T.J. Howard and associates, who also owned the Metropolitan Laundry in San Francisco. That year, the laundry completely motorized its delivery fleet. 16

1918 16

23rd Avenue Plant

In the 1920s, Frank J. Huebsch was president. In November 1925, the laundry opened a new plant at 23rd Avenue and East 7th Street (the building is now Exchange Studios apartments). The ad and article say they had been in business since 1851, and were the first steam-powered laundry in America. 1,11

The Kirkham and 14th St. plant was demolished in 1926. 12

1925 ad 1

23rd Avenue, 1950 Sanborn excerpt

In 1950, the Contra Costa Laundry was sold by the Metropolitan Laundry Company to the Ambassador, Peerless and Pioneer Laundries. The name was to continue, but the 23rd Avenue plant and the equipment were sold off. 13,14

Links and References

  1. opening ad Oakland Tribune November 29, 1925
  2. Contra Costa Laundry In Jubilee Oakland Tribune June 17, 1928
  3. Contra Costa Laundry Passes From Old Control San Francisco Call December 2, 1902
  4. Contra Costa Laundry Association San Francisco Examiner June 9, 1866
  5. To The Public San Francisco Chronicle September 1, 1876
  6. An Interesting Description of Clothes Washed by Wholesale Oakland Tribune January 20, 1887
  7. Disastrous Laundry Fire Morning Times July 11, 1889
  8. West Oakland Morning Times August 20, 1889
  9. The Mangle Burst Morning Times March 11, 1890
  10. Badly Constructed Morning Times March 12, 1890
  11. Contra Costa Laundry Opens New Plant Oakland Tribune November 29, 1925
  12. Dolan Brothers ad Oakland Tribune February 11, 1926
  13. Laundries Quit; Machinery May Be Sold For $1,000,000 Oakland Tribune June 5, 1950
  14. Contra Costa Laundry Deal Oakland Post Enquirer May 18, 1950
  15. 2000.1.1085 Oakland Tribune Collection, Oakland Museum of California
  16. To Keep Abreast of the Times, Laundry Motorizes Delivery Commercial Car Journal April 15, 1918