Louttit Laundry

also known as What Cheer Steam Laundry

Vacant since 1987, this building stood on the West Side across from Central High School for over 20 years before being completely razed to the ground.

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

The Louttit Laundry Building had been vacant since 1987 and had appeared on PPS’s Ten Most Endagered List seven times. In 1999, following a number of failed attempts to renovate the former dry cleaning plant, the City foreclosed on the property.

In December 1999, the RIDEM performed a base line survey followed by a Phase II site assessment that found extensive tetrachloroethylene (TCE) and oil contamination at the site. Remediation and redevelopment for the site was expected to cost at least $1.5 million.

On May 13, 2001, the rear half of What Cheer suffered a three alarm fire. The part that caught fire is the oldest part of what was Louttit Laundry. The front part which was still standing afterwards was added to the structure later in its life. The fire-torn half of the building was demolished as it was damaged beyond repair.

The building then stood vacant and derelict for many years. Starting in December of 2008, what remained of the building came down. Asbestos removal and clean out of the basement started first. At the time, the land had no redevelopment proposals on it but the extensive Brownfield clean up required had put off any plans for a number of years. As it went, it took nearly ten years for new buildings to be constructed at this site.

The City supposedly saved the ceramic (?) tiles on the front of the building above the main door — the great rendering of Roger Williams meeting the Indians. Where are they now?

#Current Events

This area is the site of the Urban Greens co-op market and an affordable residential development called The Upton.

#History

From the “Industrial Sites and Commercial Buildings Survey (ICBS)” by PPS and the AIA, 2001-2002, hosted by ProvPlan.org (now defunct)

It is a large, two-story, flat-roof, brick, Classical Revival-style building set on the north side of Cranston Street. The building is embellished with a roof balustrade, concrete cornice, stringcourses, and quoins. The building features a central entrance on its seven-bay façade. The entrance is set within a two-story, gable-roof projection framed by concrete quoins. The entrance surround is comprised of pilasters supporting a broken arched pediment with a panel bearing the words: “What Cheer Laundry” and depicting Roger Williams meeting Native Americans. A palladian window is located directly above the entrance at the second story level. Fenestration is comprised of rectangular openings with splayed concrete lintels. The majority of window openings are empty and missing sash; several partial windows remain. A one-story, flat-roof ell projects from the east elevation of the building. Signage remains on the building as well as a painted sign on the rear stair tower. The Burgess Street portions of the complex were lost in a fire in 2001.

On June 14, 1896, William Louttit formed a small laundry business, then known as “Louttit’s Home Hand Laundry,” in a simple building at Warren St and Elmgrove Ave in Providence. After expanding and moving several times, Louttit purchased and moved into the former home of the Hathaway Brothers’ “What Cheer Steam Laundry” in 1918. This facility was built around 1906 and had 280,000 sq ft of floor space and 250 windows. In 1925, the plant was expanded and built out to Cranston Street (this [was] the structure that is left standing).

Louttit Laundry became the largest laundry business in RI with 150 employees and 16 outlets throughout the state. Run by the same family for 90 years, the business was sold in 1985 for 1.2 million. On the verge of bankruptcy, the new owners closed and the property was auctioned in 1987. Later that year it was sold again for $160,000 and it has remained vacant.

From the National Register of Historic Places nomination form, Frederick C. Stachura, Esq., RIHPHC

The Louttit Laundry Building (1925) is a large, long, 2-story, flat-roof, brick industrial building with some Colonial Revival detailing. It is located at the corner of Burgess and Cranston Streets on the west side of Providence, in a mixed neighborhood of commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings. There is an office block facing with a small one-story wing, and a long laundry block with a square stair tower at a rear corner.

The office block faces Cranston Street and is three bays wide on the first floor, five on the second, with a slightly projecting gabled center bay. The building is trimmed with cast concrete window sills and splayed lintels, quoins and entryway in the central bay, a heavy cornice molding, and panels in the parapet simulating a balustrade. A tile medallion is under the pediment; it depicts Roger Williams’s landing in Providence and the motto “What Cheer Brings Good Cheer.” A Palladian window is located above the entry; a large triple window is set on each side of the doorway. The double-hung window sash (8-over-8) is mostly missing, but operable transoms remain in some openings. The decorative elements of the office block are carried around the corners of the building for one bay. A small single-story wing on the east end of the office block covers a loading dock. It has a flat roof and blind panels worked in the brick. On the interior the office block has a center stair and a room on each side of the stair. The offices have paneled wainscots, cornice moldings, and built-in shelving. The offices on the west side on both floors have simple Colonial Revival corner fireplaces.

The laundry block is thirteen bays long and also two stories. Its grade is about three feet higher than the office block, a short run of steps leads from the interior of one to another. Identical double windows are set on a continuous sill of cast concrete. There is a shallow cornice worked in the brick. The window sash is mostly missing, but there are sufficient remnants to show 8-over-8 double-hung sash with movable transoms. There is a squat square stair tower with a glass pyramidal roof set at the southeast corner of the building. The rear (north) elevation of the building was, until recently, joined to an earlier section of the Louttit Laundry. When fire destroyed the earlier building it was razed, and this rear elevation now shows the openings that originally connected the two structures. The interior of the laundry block is open industrial space divided only by two rows of iron columns.

Significance

The Louttit Laundry (1925) is significant as a representative example of a minor but important service industry and as a useful example of an early 20th-century industrial building.

The Louttit Laundry Company was founded in 1896 by English-born William E. Louttit, who set up operations in a small frame building on Warren Street in Providence. Louttit’s firm expanded rapidly and moved several times over the course of the next five decades.

Louttit was one of the earliest companies in Providence to centralize the process of cleaning and pressing clothes and linens. The industrialization of this once-domestic function was at least partly the result of a concentrated and expanding population in Providence, the growth of other service companies (such as restaurants and hotels), and the growth of institutions (such as hospitals and colleges). In the early decades of the century, a handful of firms competed for the laundry business of the city, but Louttit became the dominant company. William Louttit purchased many of his competitors, including the What Cheer Laundry in 1918, Swiss Cleaning in 1931, and Scott Cleaning in 1936. By 1943 Louttit laundry operated five major plants in Providence and had 600 employees.

The company survived well through the second World War; its war contracts included the washing of bandage stock woven in Rhode Island textile plants. In the post-war decades, the company added dry-cleaning to its laundry service. It concentrated on the domestic market, for which home delivery was key. Louttit had always provided delivery service, but in the 1950s and 60s the company operated a large fleet of delivery vehicles and became as much a trucking operation as a laundry. The Louttit Company finally closed its doors in the 1980s.