The Murray Laundry tower still beams on State StreetJun 17, 2021 02:55PM ● By Shaun Delliskave
The Murray Laundry tower has been restored by its new owners. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
Many Murrayites lament the loss of the iconic smelters that served as a type of lighthouse, declaring “Here is Murray!” Another landmark, not as tall but built in the same era, still stands, welcoming visitors to Murray’s northern gateway—the Murray Laundry tower (4200 S. State St.).
With its Art Deco styling and illuminated sign tower, the water tank seemed more fit for a castle than a laundromat. However, for a place that handled the wash, it has a history that is as fascinating as the architectural style of its water tower.
George N. Strike saw an opportunity in the late 1900s to move his Murray Laundry from downtown Murray to the brickyards vacated by Interstate Brick. There on the banks of Big Cottonwood Creek and its nine artesian springs, Strike and his investors envisioned a super laundry, serving all of Salt Lake County. Even though it sits barely outside the city’s boundaries in Millcreek, Strike retained the Murray name.
When it opened in 1911, the laundry was the pride of Utah. Newspapers lauded its state-of-the-art technology and its large capacity. Laundry entrepreneurs from across the nation planned their vacations to visit it.
In 1914, the Salt Lake Telegram said, “This new building is evidence of the fact that the Murray Laundry has shared in the general prosperity enjoyed by Salt Lake during the last year. It is commodious and well-built and is a witness to the constantly growing business activities of the city.”
Murray Laundry generated electricity for its own operations and consumed 125,000 gallons of artesian water daily. Customers came to see the special equipment maintained to handle flannels and woolens. Electric vacuums were installed for drying the different materials washed. The work of starching, drying, and distributing constituted a single department of the business.
Advertising their “Rain Soft Artesian Water,” the proprietors seized a marketing opportunity, boasting that they did not bother with the newfangled dry-cleaning chemicals. With branches in Salt Lake City, Holladay, Midvale, American Fork, Park City and Bingham Canyon, the Murray Laundry Company and its wells could not keep up with business.
To keep up with demand, the laundry’s owner built a 217,000-gallon tank in 1931. Rather than a regular old silo, they commissioned construction of a tower to broadcast its presence throughout the valley. With 23 tons of steel and 300 bags of cement, it was built to withstand a 60-mph wind gust. The tower’s electric sign flashed “Rain Soft Artesian Water” in bright neon.
Drama rocked the laundry palace with criminal escapades. Masked robbers broke into its office, bound and gagged the night watchmen, and cracked the safe not only in 1924 but in 1927 and 1932. The first go-round, the yeggs made out with two dollars, the second time with five dollars, but the last one was the biggest loot of $30. The crimes remain unsolved to this day.
Strike sold the Murray Laundry in the 1950s to a competing conglomerate, Paramount, and the business continued until the 1970s. As dry cleaning became king and rain soft artesian water lost favor, the company deserted its landmark location.
When stories circulated about the Murray Laundry being haunted, the old place got one more shot at glory. In the 1980s, the March of Dimes was forced to move its annual Halloween spook alley out of the Old Mill in Cottonwood Heights. The tower called out a natural replacement, and the Salt Lake Tribune observed that the venue was the largest spook alley in North America.
Eventually, the spook alley moved on, and developers bought the land. In the 2010s, the building was cleared from the ground, and apartments were slated. The owners spared the iconic tower and renovated it to its former glory, this time advertising its new name: Artesian Springs.
While never really in Murray, the tower’s presence still echoes what the Murray Eagle proclaimed in 1931. “The Murray Laundry helps make a ‘greater Murray’ in every way. Tell your friends that when they reach the Murray Laundry—that’s Murray.”