I freely and happily concede that there is nothing unique or particularly Berkeleyesque about Berkeley’s laundromats. They are, though, artifacts of a Berkeley that is slipping away, and for that reason I went out on a perfect gray, overcast, gloomy and drizzly day with John Storey and we made a photographic inventory of our laundromats.
Laundromats are the territory of the young and poor. The laundromat vibe is funky and real. They are the cultural and spiritual foil of rooftop gardens and bicycle parking and an Equinox gym in five-story apartment buildings designed with Bay Street as the aspirational aesthetic model. Shit gets real in the laundromat.
The photo above and these next few are from the Central Launderette on Shattuck just south of Haste.
The signage screams 1948! Any doubt about it as quirk?
If you entertained any doubts, ditch them. The twin old wringer washing machines on either side of the front door cinch the deal – this is Very Quirky.
I doubt that we got every laundromat in Berkeley, and I know that we poached a few from Oakland and Albany. Here they are:
Cool name but I didn’t pick up any Scottish vibe. But wait – maybe I assumed too much. “Highlander” can also refer to people of Cantabria in northern Spain, a culture in southern Poland and northern Slovakia, a person from Malësia (Highlands) in Albania, the people of the North Caucasus, an ethnic group from the highlands of Vietnam, an ethnic group from the central plateau of Madagascar, various ethnic groups in the Himalayas, a person from the Ethiopian Highlands, or the mountain people of Southern Appalachia.
Orange hard plastic chairs. Perfect.
The Laudromat on Solano easily won first prize for neat and clean and bright.
Lola and Lolo are diminutive nicknames for grandparents in informal Tagalog. Tagalog is the first language of She Who Owns the Laundromat.
He is He Who Owns It Too. They have owned it 14 years. They bought it after retiring, looking for something to do. A few owners back it had been Milt’s Coin-Op Laundry for 15 years. There was another Milt’s at 3055 Telegraph.
The new name is extremely basic. The interior – very knick-knacky/cute-sign-intense.
Of course there are the machines – all new-looking, well-maintained.
And the laundry-related accessories:
The Wash & Fold is one where I have personally done laundry.
That was in the 1980s, when a washing machine at home was busted for a few weeks. Lenny the Butcher was still on the little strip off Shattuck between Vine and Rose. It was probably my last time at the laundromat. In these years Alice Kahn was writing for the East Bay Express. I remember reading her column at the laundromat. In that column she fantasized about living in an apartment above a Chinese restaurant with a bus stop at the corner (diesel smells plus cooking smells) and the apartment was furnished exclusively in things that could be bought at Bill’s Drugs.
This is the BEST sign that I saw all day. Bar none.
One of the best names for a laundromat is on University.
Not the Louisa part – BERKELEY BUBBLES.
The owner clearly knows a good name when she (assuming Louisa is the owner) sees it. Work it!
They sometimes have specials such as one a while ago that offered free dry time Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday 10 am to 2 pm.
There are many big spools of thread in the window for the alterations work. I dearly wanted to present these two photos in color because the colors really rock. John Storey said no. Absolutely not. Black and white.
Another great name, set in brick:
Parker and Telegraph was a bloody intersection on May 15, 1969, aka “Bloody Thursday” during People’s Park. Today there is a laundromat of unusual size (LOUS).
Charles Wolff wrote me: “In your article about laundromats, there’s a place on University called Berkeley Bubbles… here’s an older (March 2000) picture of the same place; this is (more) what it looked like in the late 1970s when I lived nearby…
Runner-up to Berkeley Bubbles for great name is on College –
South on College from Suds is the Elmwood. It is across Russell Street from Nabolom Bakery. If you gotta do laundry in a laundromat, a cheese danish or cheese roll from Nabolom can take the sting out of it.
This laundromat on Sacramento stands out for its bilingual signage.
This one no se habla español, but the rest:
I lied. A couple more English-only:
In the past, this was named Sparkle Clean Wash & Dry. That was a great name!
Another of the great names is on Adeline, slightly into Oakland.
Yes – that Washington.
Still in Oakland but VERY close to Berkeley, on Claremont:
Empty sign = seen better days.
And – a final contender for best name.
If “Washouse” wasn’t cool enough, throw in the ‘Lectric and you are chilling big time.
In our exploration of coin-operated, self-service laundromats, we ran across several laundry shops farther up in the hierarchy of clothes washing – they wash and fold. Their names and look captured me:
“Laundrette” is what moves me here.
And a final few more:
Last but Not Least – a wash and fold place on Sacramento wins the GRAND PRIZE for name, even though it is not a self-service laundromat.
I suspect that my love of a business called “New Economy” anything will not be universally understood or appreciated, but I love it.
P.S. – a low-quality photograph I took of the sign at the now-gone Westbrae Wash and Dry.
I dearly wish I’d scored that sign.
My memory of Pac-Man: daughter Julia, two years old in 1987, sitting at the Pac-Man Cocktail Table Arcade Game Cabinet console at Picante, imagining that she was playing the game as it idled waiting for a coin.
I showed the draft post to my friend. He, of course, is something of a self-proclaimed expert on Pac-Man. He told me: “There are four enemies. Their movements are strictly deterministic. The red enemy chases Pac-Man. The pink enemy aims for a position in front of Pac-Man’s mouth. The blue enemy is fickle and sometimes heads towards Pac-Man, and other times away. The orange enemy alternates between behaving like the red enemy when at some distance from Pac-Man and aiming towards the lower-left corner of the maze whenever it gets too close to him.”
He pulled out a photo to show me, but told the story first. “I went to see a 1942 WPA mural called The Illini and Potawatomies at Starved Rock at the post office in Ogelsby, Illinois 20 years ago because it had been covered by a venetian blind on account of a janitor complained about the nudity. I got there too late. There had been a petition drive to remove the blinds and it succeeded. It reminds me of that dumb bastard John Ashcroft and his blue drapes covering The Spirit of Justice in the capital. Do you remember – Reagan made him AG after he lost a Senate election to a dead man?
“Anyway, while in Ogelsby I spotted this.”
“Nice sign!” I said. I was secretly thrilled because it gave me a chance to include some color in the post, John Storey’s rules or not.
He wasn’t done. “I can’t fathom why you didn’t make at least a passing reference to ‘Leader of the Laundromat.”
“I wasn’t too fond of the original ‘Leader of the Pack’ by the Shangri-Las except for the call and response of ‘Get the picture? / Yes, we see.’ As a rule I’m not fond of novelty records. And I don’t think it was very funny.”
I said. “Good talk! What about the post?”
P.P.S. Just as I was going to press with this blog, I got an email from Gabby with two photos.
He wrote: “SHAME ON YOU. How could you EVER forget the Sparkle Cleaner on Monterey in Bakersfield. Did our time there mean NOTHING?”
Gabby and I did do time in Bakersfield in 1973 with the United Farm Workers. I wrote a post a few years ago all about what we loved about Bakersfield. But, yes, I forgot about Sparkle Cleaners. Good thing Gabby is there to remember.
P.P.P.S. If the idea of laundromat photography appeals to you, check this book out.
Amazon is not my favorite Way To Buy, but here is their link to buy this Book of Cool Photos. This form a blurb about the book: “Laundromats are a quintessential part of the New York City landscape: an indispensible element to many city dwellers’ lives, they’re an ersatz utility room shared with dozens of strangers at any given time, a moist environment of humming machines and strange clothes. No other public facility gathers so many people under one roof to engage in one of the most intimate rituals in which the modern human routinely performs, that of making clean again one’s outer and under garments.”
Greetings Tom! As I was reading your blog, I was hoping that you would mention my local laundromat, Washingtown at 3215 Adeline. And, yes, you did! It is actually in Berkeley, four blocks north of the Berkeley-Oakland border.
Thank you for all your wonderful posts!
Great photos that take me back. In 1976 I was a single mother doing laundry in Berkeley.
Visited most of these. Was “flashed” by a guy in a raincoat on Solano. Just another day, ha.
Thanks for the memories.