Winston Ho 何嶸.
Rutgers University, New Brunswick,
Departments of History and Asian Languages and Cultures
2016 Jan. 22 (updated 2021 May. 30, Sunday).
[Quong Lee Laundry on 1629 Basin Street. Winston Ho, 2011.]
Q. Lee Laundry and Cleaners 李廣洗衣店 on Basin Street is one of the last historic Chinese laundries in New Orleans. Quong Lee Sr. 李廣 (1923 → 1999) immigrated to New Orleans from Longjiang village, Shuilou township, in Taishan County, Guangdong province 廣東省台山縣水樓龍江里, around 1940 to work at his uncle Hing Lee‘s hand wash-laundry on 1600 Dumaine Street. Not yet twenty, Quong Lee could barely speak English when he first arrived in this country. And, like most of the “sojourner generation,” he left his young wife, Judy Wong Lee 黃秀嬋 (1924 → 2016), behind with his family in China, while Quong earned money in the United States to support her.
Quong Lee began his career picking up and delivering laundry for his family’s customers in Tremé and the French Quarter, but quickly learned stain removal, starching, alterations, and other skills needed to run a laundry. But within two years, his uncle suddenly passed away, leaving Quong Lee to operate his uncle’s laundry alone.
[Photograph of Judy Wong and Quong Lee. Circa 1960s. Courtesy of the Lee family.]
During the Second World War, Quong Lee was drafted into the U.S. Army, but was rejected for military service because of his bad eyesight. Instead, Quong Lee was sent to Higgins Shipyards, where he was trained as a welder and worked a second job assembling ramps for the Higgins landing boats. He continued to operate his uncle laundry while working at Higgins, probably by hiring extra help. Meanwhile, his wife Judy, like many families in Guangdong province, fled to the mountains to escape the Japanese occupation.
After the war, Quong Lee brought his wife Judy to New Orleans, and in 1952, they purchased the storefront at 1625 Basin Street, near North Claiborne Avenue and what is today Interstate 10. They moved the family laundry there and renamed it Q. Lee Cleaners. While other Chinese families abandoned the laundry business, Quong Lee modernized, buying new equipment, and transforming the business into a dry-cleaner. They raised one son and five daughters together: Quong, Betty Wan, Dixie Chin, Jenny, Wanda, and Rose.
[Judy Lee and her six children. Circa 1950s. Courtesy of the Lee family.]
Their son, Quong Lee, Jr., a former auto mechanic, joined the family business in 1977, and in 1983, the family purchased the neighboring building at 1629 Basin Street, where the modern storefront is located today. The original building is now a dry-cleaning factory, and the landmark Q. Lee Cleaners has become an institution in the Tremé and surrounding neighborhoods, with a reputation as one of the best dry-cleaners in the city.
In 2005, Q. Lee Cleaners was flooded by 4-feet of standing water following Hurricane Katrina, and all of their equipment was destroyed. Q. Lee purchased new state-of-the-art equipment, manufactured locally, and the laundry became one of the first businesses in Tremé to re-open after the storm. The patrons at Q. Lee include police officers, firefighters, medical personnel, and many other professionals, who dry-clean their uniforms at Q. Lee. Thus, the reopening of the laundry was an important moment in the recovery of the city. Q. Lee continues to operate on Basin Street to this day, and several members of the Lee family still work there.
[Quong Lee Laundry. Winston Ho, 2011.]
NolaChinese: Quong Lee’s Laundry 李廣洗衣店 (https://nolachinese.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/q-lee-cleaners/).
Q. Lee Laundry and Cleaners Official Website (http://qleecleaners.com/).
1942 March Monthly Report. Records of the Chinese Presbyterian Church. Amistad Research Center at Tulane University. Finding aid at the Amistad (http://amistadresearchcenter.tulane.edu/archon/?p=collections/findingaid&id=354&q=).
Obituary for Lee, Quong. Times-Picayune (1991 Sep. 15).
Obituary for Lee, Judy Wong. Times-Picayune (2016 Apr. 6).