Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Former Cascade Linen Supply and Laundry Corp.
Address: 835 Myrtle Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Marcy Avenue
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1900 or so. On maps in 1904.
Architectural Style: 19th century factory with Neo-Grec trim
The story: The Cascade Linen Supply and Laundry was a fixture in Brooklyn life for over 112 years. Like many of Brooklyn’s success stories, it was founded by an immigrant who came to this country with nothing but a strong work ethic, a good idea and a lot of perseverance. Charles A. Bonoff was a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant who came to the United States in 1896, and started his business in 1898 with only a horse and wagon and a few wash tubs. From that humble beginning bloomed the largest linen and laundry service east of the Mississippi, with plants in New Jersey and elsewhere, and a fleet of trucks with the “Cascade” logo delivering linens to restaurants, factories and hospitals all over the tri-state area. It all started here.
I searched forever for some record of this first building being built, but came up empty. It doesn’t appear on maps until 1904, even though the building looks much older. Before 1904, there were wood framed buildings on this site, here at the border of Bedford Stuyvesant and Williamsburg. This building at the corner of Myrtle and Marcy Avenues was the first of 9 different buildings that make up the Cascade complex. The rest were built up into the 1950s or later.
In 1914, Charles Bonoff bought a plot on nearby Sanford Street, on the other side of Nostrand, and had plans to build a two story steam laundry there, which would have cost him $45,000. Perhaps the original laundry was there, and they moved here later? Or this building belonged to another factory or laundry? Much more research needs to be done, and unfortunately, it’s not on line. Be that as it may, Cascade grew here, on Myrtle and Marcy.
Bonoff was always looking to grow his business, and a great deal of that was in supplying restaurants, hospitals and factories with work clothes. The same year he was buying land on Sanford Street, he applied for a patent for a work gown for female factory workers that had detachable sleeves and was worn over the worker’s own clothing. The patent was granted in 1915.
A listing in a linen and laundry trade magazine in 1919 lists Bonoff as the president of the Brooklyn Coat & Apron Supply. And in 1921, in the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce listings, his company was called the NY Linen and Laundry Company, located at 835 Myrtle Avenue. They did laundry work and supplied barbers, dentists, etc. They also supplied towels, aprons, coats and factory dresses.
By this time, the Bonoff’s were living in Ditmas Park, at 557 Westminster Road, in a modest house. The family was active in Jewish philanthropies and Mr. Bonoff was a Shriner and a member of the Kiwanis Club. His daughter Minnie married his board chairman, Carl E. Troy. Their son William later became president of Cascade. Charles Bonoff died at the age of 82, at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, in 1952.
The plant continued to grow as the 20th century progressed. One of the most interesting aspects of it was that it never depended on Con Ed for power. Cascade had its own power plant, and generated its own electricity. The company complex employed hundreds of workers from the neighborhood, and was one of Bedford Stuyvesant’s largest employers. They were known to be a “family business,” with company outings, a savings club, and all the nice things companies used to do with employees that rarely happens anymore. Most of the people who worked there were there for twenty, thirty years or more. Cascade was also known for hiring minorities and recent immigrants.
The work was hard. Laundries are hot and dangerous places, as are pressing rooms, and it’s back breaking work. In addition to the laundry services, the company also had a floor dedicated to sewing, where they repaired the gowns, lab coats, table clothes and other linens damaged by use and washing. Cascade’s trucks were as iconic in NY as their smoke stacks rising over eastern Bed Stuy.
However, as we all know, no industry in this town lasts forever. Paper products took their toll on laundry services, as did the economic upheaval following 9-11. In 2003, a number of restaurants sued Cascade and five other large laundry services, alleging a mass price-fixing scam. Many of the companies involved had their executives indicted, including Cascade’s. The six companies ended up paying six million dollars in cash and another three million in service vouchers to settle the case. In 2009, the company was purchased by Arrow Linen Supply, and a year later, in 2010, Cascade washed its last load, and over 300 people were out of work.
The building complex has been empty ever since. A caretaker makes the rounds guarding the property. In April of last year, the complex was sold for $27 million to an investor group. They bought the entire 9 building complex, and it is now slated for new residential and commercial development. The company that bought it is not a developer, they intend to market it to interested parties. Even though the complex is across the street from, and surrounded by the projects, I don’t think the Cascade smokestacks will be standing too many more years. Another once-booming Brooklyn industry bites the dust. GMAP