The Yale Union Laundry building is listed on the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES for its ability to convey information about the industrial laundry business of early twentieth century America, the women’s labor movement, and the rise of the postwar middle class.
Yale Union is working to increase the organization’s capacity and improvements to its building are an important part of this. The plans to repurpose this historic building have four major principles in mind: historic preservation; design and equipping of spaces for contemporary art; public access and flow of visitors; and green and sustainable energy systems. Your support, in every form, is necessary as Yale Union continues to renovate its HISTORIC BUILDING.
History of the Yale Union Laundry building
The businessman Charles F. Brown constructed the brick Yale Laundry building in 1908 as a steam powered industrial laundry. At that time, there were 68 other commercial laundries in Portland, and by 1916, the Yale Laundry employed 125 workers, most of them women.
As a result of workers’ strikes in 1919 that disrupted the city’s commercial laundry business, Yale merged with nearby Union Laundry (its name is a misnomer because laborers were actually blacklisted for unionizing), and further consolidated under the Home Services Company to lower overhead and meet the new labor regulations. In 1927, a garage for drop-off and loading of delivery trucks was built adjacent to the original building in place of what was originally a horse barn for the animals that pulled the delivery wagons. As an indicator of the pre-crash success of the laundry business, a new office wing was added on the south end of the 1908 structure in 1929, with art deco reliefs depicting heroic laundry workers in cast stone.
After WWII, the availability of electric washing machines for home use boomed, and the laundry’s customer focus contracted to serve hotel and restaurant needs. In 1950, the Yale Union laundry company sold to American Linen Supply, which ceased operations in the building. In 1959, Perfect Fit Manufacturing began to use the Yale Union building to make auto seat covers, tire covers, and other automotive fabrics. Perfect Fit remained in the building through 2006. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
Repurposing the Yale Union Laundry building into a contemporary art center
In 2008, Yale Union was just a concept. An idea for a place where exemplary art could be shown on the American west coast, where ideas could be debated, and where a community of thinkers and makers could be fostered. A place where emerging and under-acknowledged artists could be empowered to make and show work.
The co-founders discovered the space where this concept could grow in the then-vacant Yale Union Laundry building in Southeast Portland.
During this period, Yale Union’s mission was created, and non-profit status was achieved. At the same time, changes and renovations were made to the building to support the formation of the Yale Union entity. The first ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES were created to provide work space for future employees and volunteers, a WOODSHOP for production of art and installation needs was set up, a RECORDING STUDIO was created to support Yale Union’s future music program, and a PRINT SHOP was set up in the basement for publications and supporting material for future Yale Union artistic programs. On the second floor, a KITCHEN AND BATHROOM were constructed, a space that for years was the only room in the building with heat and became a heart for the institution. Finally, Yale Union undertook a feasibility study and had construction plans created for future restoration and seismic upgrades. In November of 2010, Yale Union launched its WEBSITE and announced itself to Portland and the world with a mission to support emerging and under-acknowledged artists, propose new modes of production and stimulate the ongoing public discourse around art.
With the organization up and running, it was now tasked with establishing an exemplary artistic program that would be recognized on a national and international scale. Additional changes to the Yale Union laundry building were necessary to support the organization’s small staff as well as to welcome the public inside. Yale Union built its FIRST SCREENING ROOM to showcase several film programs, the COMMON ROOM gallery wall was built to better exhibit fine art programs, and a LIBRARY was built as a resource for visiting artists and curators, staff, students, and audience members. Yale Union received support to plant TREES along its sidewalk and construct TWO ADDITIONAL BATHROOMS to improve the experience of its audience. Finally, in 2013 the Yale Union laundry building was generously donated to the organization which secured its ability to continue its mission into the future.
Having received ownership of its historic building, Yale Union now began to make serious efforts to repurpose the space for its needs and begin planning for the larger restoration and development to make the building an assembly space. During this time, Yale Union totally repurposed the first level of its building, taking a completely open floor plan and dividing it into artists’ studios and maker spaces. This change allowed the institution to support artists and artisans as well as create an income stream to support its programming mission. With this new construction on the FIRST FLOOR, Yale Union also made the building safer and more comfortable for the visiting public with things like sprinklers, handrails, heating, and exit lighting. Yale Union also renovated its woodshop to increase its functionality. During this time, Yale Union undertook two historic restoration projects. The second-level wood floors were sanded and refinished to increase their lifespan and bring out their hidden beauty, and a first-floor loading door, which was once used to deliver coal with horse drawn carriages, was repurposed into a MAIN PEDESTRIAN ENTRANCE. By the end of 2017, Yale Union was actively working on a plan to achieve assembly occupancy status and complete necessary seismic upgrades.
The many projects to restore and repurpose the Yale Union laundry building to date could not have been possible without the generous support of The Martin Family, HCP Inc., Portland Development Commission, The Kinsman Foundation, Howard S. Wright Construction Co., Key Bank, Anonymous, and with crucial and continuing alliance from our donors.
☐ RESTORATION OF WINDOWS
☐ Repoint masonry