Winston Ho 何嶸.
University of New Orleans,
Department of History 紐奧良大學歷史學系.
2020 Dec. 25, Christmas Day.
[The “Oriental Laundry” at 207 Canal Street. Photograph by Evans Walker. Farm Security Administration, 1935. Public domain photograph at the Library of Congress (LOC, 2017759415). Accessed from LOC (https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2017759415/).]
The above is a famous photograph of the corner of North Front Street and Canal Street in New Orleans in 1935. The photograph was taken by Walker Evans (1903 → 1975) of the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Walker was a famous photographer best known for documenting everyday life in the American South during the Great Depression. This photograph of Front Street and Canal is now a public domain photograph at the Library of Congress (LOC, 2017759415).
The ferry terminal at the Mississippi River, which existed in 1935 and still exists today, would be located behind the photographer. At this point in history, Front Street extended from Conti Street to Canal, and the photograph was taken from across Front Street. Note that cars appear in the background driving to and from North Peters Street, past the Customs House and the French Quarter.
Today in 2020, Front Street no longer continues to Canal Street. It ends at Bienville Street, and it is essentially an access road for the French Quarter parking lots surrounding it. The intersection of Front Street and Canal is where the shopping center at One Canal Place Is today. Nonetheless, the photograph remains one of the most iconic and popular photographs of Canal Street, and prints can be found throughout New Orleans.
[Sign at the the “Oriental Laundry” at 207 Canal Street. Photograph by Evans Walker. Farm Security Administration, 1935. Public domain photograph at the Library of Congress (LOC, 2017759415). Accessed from LOC (https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2017759415/).]
The photograph is also significant for the appearance of the “Oriental Laundry” 遠東洗衣店 sign at 207 Canal Street. Founded in 1924, the Oriental Laundry was owned by a wealthy Chinese American named Charles Tung 松新陳 (1894 → 1938) and his family. While Chinese-owned laundries were a common sight in New Orleans and other American cities in the 1930s, and most were small operations owned and managed by a single family, the Oriental Laundry was different. 207 Canal was one of a chain of over twelve branches located throughout the Greater New Orleans Area. The branches were drop-off sites, and everyday, a fleet of Oriental Laundry trucks delivered laundry from the branches to the “main office and plant” on 315 Bourbon Street (where Houlihan’s Restaurant was from 1970s to the 1990s, and where Rick’s Cabaret is today). On Bourbon Street, laundry was sorted by a small army of workers and cleaned in great steam-cleaning machines, before being delivered back to the branches.
Each branch of the Oriental Laundry was marked with a “pagoda-roofed” neon sign. Beginning in 1935, the words “Not In the Trust” began appearing on these signs. This is a reference to a lawsuit from 1933, when the Oriental Laundry and other local chains were charged with violating labor and anti-trust laws by the National Recovery Authority (NRA), one of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies. The idea was that chain stores could set predatory prices and unfairly compete with individually-owned businesses. Controversial since its creation, the NRA dropped its lawsuit against the Oriental Laundry in 1934, and the NRA itself was sued for its unclear and inconsistent policies. It was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1935 and dissolved.
The Oriental Laundry itself flourished and experienced rapid growth in the 1920s and 1930s, but entered a slow decline after the death of Charles Tung in 1938. The Oriental Laundry closed at the end of the 1960s.
[“History Says Do as Romans When in Rome – That’s Why I Have Americanized My Oriental Laundry.” Times-Picayune (1924 Oct. 10): p. 10.]
NolaChinese: Canal Street (https://nolachinese.wordpress.com/2020/12/25/canal-street/).
Evans, Walker (Farm Security Administration). Photograph of the Corner of Canal Street and N. Front Street. 1935. Library of Congress, 2017759415. Accessed from the Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2017759415/).
“Walker Evans (1903-1975).” Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. Accessed from the Met (https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/evan/hd_evan.htm). [Except for the FSA photographs at the LOC, the other Walker Evans photographs are located at the Met in New York City.]
何嶸《紐奧良市法區第二唐人街調查》 Ho, Winston. Survey of the Second New Orleans Chinatown in the French Quarter. 2016. Accessed from Academia (https://www.academia.edu/40188223/).
“History Says Do as Romans When in Rome – That’s Why I Have Americanized My Oriental Laundry.” Times-Picayune (1924 Oct. 10): p. 10.
“NRA Violation Charged to Four Cleaners, Dyers.” N.O. States (1933 Dec. 10): p. 16.
“Blue Eagle Is Ordered from Laundry in City.” N.O. States (1934 Jan. 24): p. 3.
“Laundry Accused Of Code Violation.” Times-Picayune (1934 Jan. 24): p. 3.
“Laundry Enjoined As Code Violator.’” N.O. States (1934 May 3): p. 2.
“Code Injunction Sought Against Cleaning Firm.’” Times-Picayune (1934 May 4): p. 1, 4.
“Code Suspension May Close Suits Against Cleaners.” Times-Picayune (1934 May 30): p. 10.
“Charges Against Three Laundries Dropped in Court.” Times-Picayune (1934 Jun. 2): part 2, p. 17.
“Laundry Chain Owners Expires of Short Illness.” Times-Picayune (1938 Oct. 15): p. 1-2.