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Empire-Rouse Laundry | Photo © 2020 Bullet, www.abandonedalabama.com

Empire-Rouse Laundry

Location Class:
Built: 1948 | Abandoned: 2009
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

L. D. Rouse

L. D. Rouse came to Montgomery in the early-1900s and in June 1907, he established the Steam Laundry business in an old building on North Perry Street with what he described as “more or less crude equipment and limited capital.” In 1909, the business acquired Empire Laundry and moved the old Steam Laundry equipment into the new building, adopting the name of the former.

By 1915, the three largest laundry businesses in the city were Blue Ribbon Laundry, Capital City Laundry, and Empire Laundry. After the end of World War I, the competition was too much and Empire Laundry was losing money. So in November 1919, Rouse formed a corporation and purchased the Blue Ribbon Laundry at 401 Dexter Avenue in downtown Montgomery. Empire Laundry stayed at this location until January 1, 1929, when they moved to a more modern, newly constructed building at 946 Adams Avenue. By this time, the business was operating under the name Empire-Rouse Laundry.

LD Rouse
L. D. Rouse

Empire Laundry advertised itself as being able to wash an entire carload of laundry for the low price of 10 cents a pound. This was possible with the use of ‘floating roll’ machinery made for ironing clothing. Rouse touted this new machinery as having spent $10,000 to have it installed and as being the second of its kind in the South.

In his time in Montgomery, L. D. Rouse served as president of the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, president of the Montgomery Rotary Club, first state chairman of the Alabama Chapter of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, president of the Montgomery County Club, president of the Montgomery Housing Authority, board member of the Young Men’s Christian Association, a Mason and Shriner, and a deacon for the First Baptist Church. He was a pioneer in the breeding of Tennessee Walking Horses at his stables in Gladlane Farm located on Troy highway. He was also well-known for the development and restocking of wild turkeys in southwest Alabama. L. D. Rouse passed away on May 27, 1956. After his death, ownership of the business was transferred to his son-in-law, Clement Tranum Fitzpatrick.

1950 sanborn Empire Laundry
1950 Sanborn Insurance Map for Montgomery, Alabama. The layout of Empire Laundry’s main plant at 946 Adams Avenue. Library of Congress

C. T. Fitzpatrick

C. T. Fitzpatrick was born on February 13, 1914. He attended Sidney Lanier High School, and the Marion Military Institute in Marion, Alabama where he would serve on the Board for 38 years. He served in World War II as an officer in the U.S. Navy and was honorably discharged with the rank of lieutenant. Afterward, he enrolled in the American Institute of Laundering in Joliet, Illinois wherein he joined his father-in-law in the family business.

Fitzpatrick was quite a successful businessman having not only owned Empire-Rouse Laundry, but also the Governor’s House Hotel on South Boulevard as well as having a hand in developing Governor’s Square Shopping Center and Gladlane Estates. He was one of the founders of Thermal Components and one of the founders of Guilford Company. He was also a partner in Moody Tire Company and in Natural Gas Appliance Company.

Empire Rouse
The Empire-Rouse Laundry logo

Empire-Rouse Laundry

At its peak, Empire-Rouse owned eight locations throughout the city while its main competitor was Capital City Laundry which boasted over eleven locations. Capital City Laundry ran advertisements against their competitor claiming the “family wash” that Empire-Rouse Laundry offered was inadequate as loads of clothing would become mixed and employees regularly wore their customers’ clothing. By the 1950s, Empire-Rouse had become nothing more than a coin-operated laundromat. As more competitors were established around the city of Montgomery, Empire-Rouse could not keep up with the competition and eventually closed down.

According to some sources, this building was first occupied by Empire Rouse but evidence suggests it was built in 1948 by Lorren Cleaners. Lorren Cleaners was established by brothers John Elbert and James Richard Lorren who claimed to have had many years of experience in the dry cleaning business. By the 1980s, the business and its interests were bought by Donald R. Davis of Davis Cleaners with this location operating as Davis One-Hour Cleaners. Davis eventually acquired the Capital City Laundry location across the street and continued to operate it under the same name.

In October 1998, it was reported that Capital City Laundry and Davis Cleaners had accumulated 39 Better Business Bureaus complaints in the past three years, most of which had gone unanswered. Along with all the bad press they were getting, these locations were often broken into with thousands of dollars in clothing being stolen. While these are definite factors in why Capital City Laundry and Davis Cleaners eventually closed down, there was probably one other factor.

lorren cleaners 2
Lorren Cleaners, 1948. The Montgomery Advertiser
1950 sanborn lorren
1950 Sanborn Insurance Map for Montgomery, Alabama. Library of Congress

Capital City Plume

In 1993, construction workers discovered contaminated groundwater during the construction of the RSA Tower energy plant. In the late-1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) became involved, and in 2000, The Capital City Plume Site was proposed to be put on the National Priorities List (NPL) officially labeling it as a superfund site. Although proposed, the city managed to avoid having the Plume labeled a superfund site by taking responsibility for the site and its cleanup.

The Downtown Environmental Alliance was created consisting of multiple state government agencies whose responsibility was the planning and the cleanup costs of the site. Through testing, the EPA concluded that the contamination was likely caused by the commercial printing industry that resided in downtown Montgomery in the late-1800s and early-1900s, mainly the Montgomery Advertiser. The Montgomery Advertiser did its own tests which concluded that the contamination was most likely caused by nearby gas stations and dry cleaners. No matter what the source of the contamination was, the cleanup of the Plume is an ongoing process even to this day. While most of the affected areas went along with business as usual, some businesses shut down adding to the blight that affects a large portion of Montgomery.

Since 2015, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) has overseen the cleanup of the site. In July 2020, the ADEM recommended that the EPA withdraw its listing of the site, a decision the EPA agreed with, and the site was removed in September 2020. In recent years, Montgomery has seen a massive resurgence with the restoration of many abandoned structures located downtown and the construction of new hotels, restaurants, retail, and tourist attractions such as a 120-acre waterpark being constructed off of I-65.

Davis Cleaners was closed down in 2009 followed by a tax sale conducted by the State of Alabama due to unpaid taxes. Capital City Laundry had closed the previous year. Both properties are currently owned by the State of Alabama.

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David Bulit

My name's David Bulit and I'm a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. I've published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. My work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Tampa Bay Times, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of my work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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