Nelson’s Laundry – 2300 Cambie Street

Although this 1936 image shows Nelsons Laundry (started by Nels Nelson in 1931), the building was constructed in 1928 as the Metropolitan Laundry and Dry Cleaners Ltd. It was a new company, with a significant building designed by Gardiner and Mercer, with references to the Mission Style popular at the time. It was a hybrid construction, with a reinforced concrete frame and a wooden roof, built by Adkinson and Dill, filled with the most up-to-date laundry equipment of the day. Nelson’s took over three years later, and the name continued for many years, although the company was purchased by A.B. Christopher in 1939. Lawrey Nelson was president, living on West Georgia, and Nels Nelson was the vice-president of the company, living in New Westminster. The Nelson family was Danish, but Lawrey had been born in BC. Nels was Lawrey’s father, a prominent New Westminster brewer. He was one of the first in Canada to use glass bottles sometimes instead of beer kegs or barrels. During the great fire of 1898, Nels quickly brought out fire hoses and used brewery water to protect modern new machinery while the building burned around it. He had Gardner and Mercer design his ‘prarie style’ home in 1913. During Canadian prohibition between 1916 and 1921 the Westminster Brewery was allowed to continue operating, supposedly sending the production for export – although much of it never left New Westminster. Nels sold the brewery business in 1928, and eventually it became part of the Labatt’s empire, before closing in 2005

In 1935 The Vancouver Sun ran what was undoubtedly a promotional article which said “Beauty and utility are cleverly combined in the Nelson Laundries, Ltd., plant on Cambie Street at Seventh Avenue. Most especially is this true in the dry cleaning unit, housed in a building that is a dream of modern architecture come true. This building, 20 years in advance of its time, is marked by the simplicity of its design, Great windows across the front of it add to its attractive appearance and assure a bright and cheery atmosphere within, so different from the dry cleaning plants of a generation ago, LATEST EQUIPMENT Not only is it bright and airy within, but it is the last word in dry cleaning establishments as far as machinery is concerned. There is a double Zonic garment cleaning unit. A weighing machine nearby assures that standard loads will go in each of the huge torpedo tubes. The machine is so arranged that everything in it is kept sterile. Silk, satin and velvet garments come out with their lustre restored and absolutely free of any oily filament. Another feature which sets this up as a 1935 cleaning plant is one noticeable by its absence. That is odor. In the old days garments returned from the cleaners reeked with the odor of gasoline. There’s none about those which come home from Nelson’s. They’re as fresh and sweet as if they’d just been taken from a wash line. CARE IN IRONING The pressing section of Nelson’s has not only the up-to-date electric pressors, but the good old-fashioned ironing board and steam irons. Some of the finest of the ironing has to be done by hand and skilled workers use care that could not be surpassed by the most careful housewife. Here all rayon and celanese garments are done by hand to prevent scorching. “Nelson’s clothes stay pressed.” That’s the slogan of the pressing department. A crease that is put in a pant leg stays there. Old trousers that come in baggy at the knee and very disreputable looking, have a way of going out almost new in appearance. 0ld coats, too, are reshaped to look like new. Turning from the pressing department, the visitor to Nelson’s comes to the rug cleaning department. Thousands of dollars are represented in the massive machinery.” The article continues in similar form over several more paragraphs. Our favourite line is “And at Nelson’s especially every care is taken with every article no matter how small and cheap.”

By 1954, the company was the largest laundry and dry cleaning enterprise on the Lower Mainland. It expanded by purchasing the Imperial Laundry in Nanaimo, the New Method Laundry in Victoria, the Pioneer Laundry in Vancouver and the Royal City Laundry in New Westminster. In 1964 the company moved its headquarters and production plant to the ex-Pioneer building on West 4th Avenue. Christopher sold the company to the Steiner American Corporation in 1968, although he stayed on in an executive capacity for several more years. This site was developed with a car dealership – before it closed in the early 2000s it was home to Dueck Downtown, who had replaced Paul Fong’s GM dealership, which in turn replaced a Ford dealership (seen here in 1989).

Dueck moved to Terminal Avenue, and in 2008 Grosvenor Estates developed The Rise, a multi floor retail building designed by Nigel Baldwin, with Winners above a Home Depot, over Save On Foods, smaller retail units round the edge, and three storey rental townhouses around a courtyard on top.

Image source, City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-4978 and CVA 772-370

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Posted February 27, 2020 by ChangingCity in Gone, Mount Pleasant

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