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In 1896, English immigrant William E. Louttit founded Louttit’s Home Hand Laundry. The small business grew and grew and moved to larger and larger facilities until finally purchasing two large brick buildings, previously the What Cheer Steam Laundry, on Cranston Street, in 1918. This complex, built in 1906, had a handsome Georgian Revival office block, with projecting pedimented entrance, as its frontispiece; the complex originally boasted over 280,000 square feet. By 1925, Louttit had grown to the largest laundry facility in Rhode Island with over 150 employees and sixteen outlets statewide. After ninety years of family ownership, the Louttit family sold its name and facility for 1.2 million dollars in 1985. Two years later the new owners, facing bankruptcy, closed the laundry works and auctioned the site. The building remained vacant and in 1995 it was first included on the Most Endangered Properties list.

The abandonment of this structure led to its rapid deterioration. PPS included the Louttit Laundry on the Most Endangered Properties list seven times (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2007) in an effort to attract a developer. The property sat prominently at the entrance to the Broadway-Armory Historic District; its restoration could have reactivated Hoyle Square and thus encouraged further development along Cranston Street and the surrounding neighborhood.

In 2001, a fire destroyed the rear half of the complex, thus greatly diminishing the potential of the structure for redevelopment. Ironically, the 2001 fire increased available funding from statewide and national Brownfield redevelopment assistance funds, which would have facilitated the cleanup of any on-site contaminants. In 2004, the building was listed on National Register of Historic Places, establishing its eligibility for historic tax credits. The building became property of the City of Providence while Stop Wasting Abandoned Property (SWAP) had the development rights.

LOST: The Providence Historic District Commission subsequently granted approval to demolish all but the first ten feet of the Cranston Street façade so that environmental remediation may take place. However, the building was demolished in 2008.

    Bill Wemple says:

    My grandfather, Harry D. Wemple, managed What Cheer in early in the 20th century.

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