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Spotlight: Two St. Louis buildings harken back to 1900s laundry wars

Spotlight: Two St. Louis buildings harken back to 1900s laundry wars

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When drawing up a list of standout laundries in St. Louis, two buildings come quickly to mind:

• Dinks Parrish Laundry — a wildly ornate terra-cotta structure in the 3100 block of Olive Street, near the popular Pappy’s Smokehouse.

Formerly The Loft Jazz Club, the building is mostly vacant. Mike Emerson of Pappy’s Smokehouse leases part of it for storage.

• J. Arthur Anderson Laundry — the Beaux Arts “turtle building” with a semi-circle drive at 4940 Washington Boulevard in the Central West End.

The building has housed Ekon Benefits, a retirement consulting company, since 1985.

The buildings are linked to two men who are linked to each other in what amounted to a laundry war, and even a slogan war, in the early 1900s.

Anderson, born and reared in Ontario, moved to St. Louis in 1887, according to the 1912 censuslike “Book of St. Louisans.” It shows that Anderson began working for the Munger Laundry Co.

Among other notations about Anderson: He was a Republican and a Methodist who lived in Normandy, and was a member of the Glen Echo Country Club who liked golf and hunting.

In 1902, he went into business with Dinks L. Parrish, a Virginia native who moved to St. Louis some years before Anderson, the record states.

As to Parrish, the book says he was mostly self-educated, and worked in the men’s clothing business before starting a laundry in 1892. He was a 32nd-degree Mason, active in horse and dog shows and belonged to the Missouri Athletic Club.

The partnership was short-lived and Anderson moved on in 1906 to start the Anderson Family Laundry Co. His first laundry was in the 3900 block of Olive, where part of the building still stands. His management theories were farsighted, especially for the 1910s.

A 1918 article in “System: A Magazine for Business” said Anderson established a minimum wage for his workers, had them work only nine hours a day, and provided a swimming pool at the laundry so workers could take a dip during lunch hour.

Parrish, who in 1916 was a full-fledged competitor to Anderson, had a new headquarters built, the Late Gothic Revival-style building at 3100 Olive with a blue-and-white terra-cotta facade.

According to the Landmarks Association of St. Louis’ application to get the Parrish site on the National Register of Historic Places, the building was designed by Will Levy. A prominent St. Louis architect, Levy designed a number of Central West End buildings, including the Mahler Ballroom and the first Jewish Hospital Building on Delmar.

While competing for business, Landmarks reported that the two men also competed with slogans — ones that seem, at the very least, paradoxical in today’s warp-speed culture.

Parrish trumpeted his business as being “The Slowest Laundry,” while Anderson hyped his service as being “Slow and Careful.” At some point, Anderson even adopted the turtle as the company symbol. Parrish carried his slogan strategy to Oklahoma, where he owned “Dinks Parrish Slowest Laundry Co.”

Anderson died unexpectedly in 1921 after an emergency appendectomy, the association reports, but his company continued. In 1927, J. Arthur Anderson Laundry built the facility at 4910 Washington, with large turtles seemingly crawling along its facade.

Carved into the stone below the turtles: “Slow and Careful.”

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