John LeeWong, who grew up in a San Diego Chinese laundry, created a permanent exhibit about the laundries for the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum in the Gaslamp District. As noted in a local newspaper article, the exhibit which opened in 2005, “is filled with photographs, rusted irons, faded laundry tickets, an abacus and even money found in customers’ pockets,” which he collected from families and from the Wong Lee Laundry, his family’s old business.
In its heyday, there were over 100 Chinese laundries in San Diego, but only a few remain. LeeWong said of the disappearance of the laundries, “During World War II, the 7th Fleet was here, lots of sailors everywhere. We cleaned their uniforms. After the Vietnam War, lots were transferred to Long Beach, to Norfolk, to Oceanside.”
John Jung, a professor at California State University Long Beach and author of two books on the subject, spoke at the museum yesterday about the history of Chinese laundries in the United States. His family had a laundry in Macon, Ga. “Laundries were really essential to economic survival for the Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” Jung told nearly three dozen people in the meeting room. Some attended because they, too, “were brought up working in the family laundry,” said one woman who grew up in Pittsburgh.
Two long standing laundries still operating are the Soon Lee Laundry and New Life Laundry.