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Tuesday, October 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: Cascade steam laundry

This is a 1907 photo of the Spokane River Lower Falls. View is looking to the west with downtown Spokane in the left side of the photo. The Cascade Steam laundry is the prominent structure on the north bank of the river. Cascade was established in Spokane in 1890. (PHOTO ARCHIVE / SR)
This is a 1907 photo of the Spokane River Lower Falls. View is looking to the west with downtown Spokane in the left side of the photo. The Cascade Steam laundry is the prominent structure on the north bank of the river. Cascade was established in Spokane in 1890. (PHOTO ARCHIVE / SR)

If you were an early settler of the American West, having clean clothes to wear every day was a luxury. Some of the first businesses in Spokane Falls in the 1880s and 1890s were laundries, which drew clean water from the river and stoked fires to boil or steam out dirt and grime.

The Cascade Steam Laundry on the north bank of the Spokane River was built in 1890, about the time Samuel H. Friedman journeyed to Spokane from the Midwest. Friedman, in his mid-20s, partnered with P.E. Fisher and J. Reise to take over the laundry the next year, growing it from a small shop of a few workers to the dominant player in the business, soliciting both commercial accounts and private customers. Their ad slogan was “Not the best because we’re the largest, the largest because we’re the best.”

Spokane’s Cascade Steam Laundry was one of several by that name, spread from Tacoma to Great Falls, Montana. The laundry partners developed multiple cleaning locations around Spokane, plus drop-off points for customers who lived farther out of town.

Friedman died in 1904, but the laundry business continued for a few more decades – at least until the advent of the home washing machine and the home hot water heaters.

As the need for commercial laundry declined somewhat, Cascade moved to another location in the 1930s. Cascade became Consolidated-Cascade Laundry, sometimes Cascade-Consolidated Laundry, in the old building on Bridge Street by 1942.

After World War II, home washing machines and running hot water became ubiquitous in middle class homes, leaving only specialty cleaning –so called “dry cleaning” – for commercial laundries.

Cascade was gone in the 1952 city directory. Multiple tenants moved into the row of buildings, including the old laundry building. The Culligan Soft Water Company, the most high profile of the businesses, stayed in the building overlooking the falls until 1976. Once the Culligan Man signs were removed, the buildings were acquired by the city parks department and torn down, replaced by landscaping and trees.

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