Behind the doorways and barred windows of a distinctive building facade in downtown San Antonio, there’s only sunshine, a few trees, and some memories.
Long gone are the brick walls and roof, the equipment, and the people of the former Sunshine Laundry that operated there for a century.
Built sometime before 1913, the structure is situated on about 3 acres of what is today prime property acquired by Frost Tower developer Weston Urban in 2015 from Sunshine Industries.
Weston Urban President Randy Smith said it reminds him of an Old Western film set. But the decision to preserve the facade isn’t part of any drama or even grand plan just yet.
“We were not required to do that – it was not deemed historic – we just thought it was cool, and the rest of the buildings were not,” Smith said. “If, someday, whatever the project ends up being … if it can be incorporated into a project, it could be kind of cool.”
Smith said the developer has not determined what will become of the site located near CAST Tech High School and the San Pedro Creek Culture Park in the northwestern sector of downtown. It is zoned general industrial and tax records show the property is assessed at nearly $1.5 million.
Weston Urban owns a number of commercial office buildings in downtown San Antonio, and recently proposed building a residential tower in the heart of the business district. The developer’s original plan for the North Flores property was to purchase the adjoining lots that the San Antonio Independent School District had once considered selling, he said, making for a sizable lot.
“That would have been a really unique scenario that would have landed us with an assemblage of somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 acres contiguous on San Pedro Creek, and that was something to be to be quite excited about,” Smith said.
While Weston Urban was the successful bidder, he said, SAISD in 2016 decided not to sell the property.
Since then, the developer demolished the Sunshine Laundry building and has been doing the environmental cleanup on the site. “But I have no clue what we’re going to do with it,” Smith said.
For now, the sunny-yellow facade adorned with iron lanterns stands braced against the elements along a stretch of North Flores Street waiting for its moment to shine again.
All that remains after the 2017 demolition of the building itself is an old storefront and a sign atop the awning that offers some clue to its long history.
A laundry business began operating on the site in 1913, according to research by the San Antonio Conservation Society of city directories. The first was Laundry de Lux, managed by J.J. O’Shea, from 1913-16, followed by Royal Laundry.
In 1918, the building became the home of Sunshine Laundry. That same year, a two-alarm fire resulted in $30,000 to $40,000 worth of damage to the one-story brick building and destroyed a significant amount of “army goods” in the facility, according to a newspaper article. At the time, the building was valued at $10,000 to $15,000.
Research also indicates H.M. Harrison was president of Sunshine Laundry in 1927-28, and G.M Fox was vice president, treasurer, and general manager of the company. It was Fox’s idea to introduce lavender-colored delivery trucks into the business, according to a 1931 newspaper article reporting on Milam Chevrolet’s delivery of a fleet of the light purple trucks.
A vintage photo of the building from the 1920s shows a row of Ford Model Ts lined up in front of the business.
When the black-and-white image was shared on Facebook three years ago, it triggered memories for Rebecca Fisher Overdorf, who recalls best the interior that is now gone.
“I remember going there a lot with my dad when I was little,” Overdorf said of those visits in the mid-1970s. “He was good friends with Roxie Ruffo, the owner. We’d go in the back entrance and I was fascinated with all the giant washing machines and pressing machines.”