Wong Laundry Building
Year Built: 1908
Location: Portland, Oregon
908 Wong Laundry Building is significant to Portland’s economic history and to the ethnic and immigration history of both city and state. Designed by Alexander C. Ewart, the two-story masonry structure combining retail on the ground floor and lodging above is a prime example of early 20th century commercial architecture built for the travelers, businessmen and workers pouring forth from the new Union Station. The building played a significant role in the evolution of both Portland’s New Chinatown and Nihonmachi, or Japantown.
The Wong Laundry Building was occupied before 1930 by a saloon and various retailers. In the early 1940s, the storefronts were converted into a Chinese hand laundry (parts of which are still intact), a radio repair shop, and living quarters for the widow of a Chinese medicine preparer, Mrs. Kai Young Wong, and her six children. Through extremely hard work and the help of several Wong uncles, Mrs. Wong was able to purchase the building in the early 1950s. A fire in 1970 caused by kerosene thrown through the exterior laundry chute, caused extensive water damage to the first floor and the laundry was closed. The building has been vacant since that time.
For decades the Wong Laundry Building has been experiencing demolition by neglect attributable to a lack of access to capital for needed major restoration. The unreinforced masonry structure has been challenging for owners to maintain and is considered seismically unsafe. The building’s poor condition, low height, and location within a quickly developing part of Portland make it a candidate for demolition and redevelopment if a plan for preservation isn’t developed soon.
There is strong support from the Chinese and Japanese communities and the Old Town Chinatown Community Association for preserving and reusing the Wong Laundry Building. Because the buildings are prime candidates for the use of urban renewal dollars, Portland Development Commission support for planning and seismic upgrade will be sought in the months ahead. The property owners are struggling to maintain the building and are ready to sell to a preservation-oriented buyer. Developing an economically viable plan for the restoration of the building as a community resource such as a mixed-use multi-ethnic museum will be imperative to the survival of the building.