YU at the Yale Union Laundry Building

Just down the street from us, at SE 10th and Morrison/Belmont is the 1908 Yale Union Laundry Building, now the home of YU, an aspiring, big-league art venue. Jer and I went to an Open House at YU on Saturday and got a tour of the building from its librarian.

Above is a view of the YU building from SE Belmont and 10th Ave. This is the most giddy part of the building, with the frieze depicting laundry activities in the style of ancient Egyptian imagery. This part of the building was added in the 1920’s, when doing laundry for the middle classes had become a big business. It was also, interestingly enough, after working conditions brought unions to the Portland laundry workers.

For me, YU combines a fascination with old industrial and public buildings, contemporary art, art venues, and our southeastmain neighborhood. One attribute of the older buildings is the large windows, which not only show a certain amount of wealth, but were also essential when electricity couldn’t keep up with the light requirements in places like schools and laundries.

Interior window, YU building

The YU building had few tenants, considering its 100+ year history. It operated as a laundry until the mid-1950s. In 1959 an automotive textile fabricator, Perfect Fit Manufacturing, took over and stayed in the building until 2006. The building  was researched by Kimberli Fitzgerald and Peter Meijer,and became part of the national Registry of Historic Places in 2007. And in 2008 the Yale Union Laundry Building was purchased to become YU; the co-founders of the new art venue are Flint Jamison & Curtis Knapp. So the building remained fairly intact.

Evidence of its laundry past reside not only in the windows, but in other parts of the building still evident from outside:

The old water tank structure can still be seen from Morrison Street. The parking lot/ delivery area below the tank will eventually be turned into a public plaza.

On our tour, we went up stairs and through doors and down stairs and across catwalks, seeing parts of old industrial Portland:

This is the basement of YU building, with the coal shoot (top center-left) leading to the remnant of the furnace used for heating water, and, out of sight on the left, bits of the Willamette River (the explanation was very vague) still filling some of the crevices.

This piece of machinery is part of the old furnace/boiler for the laundry, now apparently repurposed as a heating apparatus. Our guide was vague about the past, but he definitely knew that at the end of July, 2011, artist Tom Marioni will start the installation of The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends which will, naturally, include beer bottles placed in the racks at the rear right. You have to see the YU site for a clearer explanation.

The building has been worked on, and includes a pretty snazzy kitchen space (probably originally for the laundry workers, made available after they organized) which includes an enormous uncovered beam. The ceilings in the main part of the “two-story” building are 20 feet high and there’s a labyrinth of mezzanines and basement areas that include a large space filled with printing presses; a resident artist has already set up shop there, printing YU’s materials.

YU Kitchen — note the big beam.

My two favorite spaces, qua space, though, are the largest in the building and on a July evening, were filled with heavenly light. The first floor room is echoed on the second floor, the biggest difference being that the first floor has pieced in concrete and some boarded windows while the second is all wood and looks like it should be a ballroom of classic 20’s style:

YU exhibiting space, first floor

YU exhibiting space, Upper floor.

The whole of the inner eastside is becoming a haven for artists: the Troy Laundry art studios have been here a long time; the 640 Warehouse, where Full Circle is situated, started up just six months. In-between and all around there’s a host of places full of  interesting and energetic people, of all ages and financial statuses, creating a good place to play, eat, find compatible souls, and feel really human. Our hope is that the Yale Union will also be around a long time, continuing the tradition of contented tenant.

Ah, my neighborhood. –June

This entry was posted in Buckman Neighborhood, Portland, Portland Art Events, southeast Portland, Yale Union Laundry, YU and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to YU at the Yale Union Laundry Building

  1. Irene Lee says:

    Who would I contact to see if they would renti the open floor for a night?


  2. Reva says:

    June, tell me when. We have a couple of commitments at the end of the month, but if the beer reception (beer? reception? Sounds incongruous) doesn’t conflict, I’d be interested.


  3. juneu says:

    Jan and Jan, hey thanks. Jan-Uwood — good observation –snort–
    Reva, at the end of July there’s going to be an opening reception for the beer exhibit. Wanta join me? My Jer isn’t interested, but I think it could be a hoot.


  4. Jan says:

    A “frieze depicting laundry activities in the style of ancient Egyptian imagery” sounds very Southeast Portland circa 2011. YU was ahead of its time.


  5. janetl says:



  6. Reva says:

    That looks like a terrific space; must find a reason to go there SOON.


  7. Jan says:

    This was a fascinating look at the old building. I have never seen it or even heard of it before. Very cool. thanks for sharing, I enjoyed the tour.


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