The Louise Hand Laundry is closed.
For 65 years a Washington institution, where the shirts of captains and kings ere laundered, and White House curtains were ironed by hand, from antique lace tablecloths were sent from all over the country, the little shop at 1405 12th St. NW is looking for a new owner.
Its driving force, Beulah Hall, who has owned the place for 34 years, has decided the time has come to take things easy. She is 87. Last August the shop was robbed, but that was not the deciding factor, according to her nephew, Dr. Richard Hall of Baltimore.
"She's just not as active as he was," he said. "Right now she's visiting her brother in Wisconsin. We hope to find someone who's interested in carrying on but if we don't, I supposed it will go for good. She's most reluctant to close the business."
In any case, the laundry is not operating now, and Washington's most powerful peole may have to go around in turtlenecks for awhile.
Senators, ambassadors, Presidents - a stack of John Kennedy's shirt was awaiting to be delivered on the day he didn't come back from Dallas - and the merely elegant, who wanted their handmade London shirts treated gently: They'd send their chauffeurs around to the scruffy neighborhood or call for the delivery wagon.
When you went in there you could see the names on the boxes: Fulbright, Alsop, Carter Brown, Tower. A few years ago it was Truman, Eisenhower, Dulles, Warren, Franfurter. George Washington's bedspread was sent up from Mount Vernon not by Washington himself, to be sure, but by the curators.
At the Louise you wouldn't find spray starches. Starch past was hand-rubbed into the bosoms of dress shirts after they were cleaned in a basin also by hand, with plain soap and water. Then they were hand-ironed. Regular shirts get a thinner strach, if ordered.
Sheets were ironed by commercial pressers, all except for the monograms, which got individual attention. Tiny items were shaken up in a glass jar of suds so they sould be handled as little as possible.
"There's no slam-bang stuff in here," Miss Hall once said in gentle understatement.
Most shirts could be laundered for little over a dollar.
Miss Hall, who came here from Nebraska in 1942 and a year later bought the business from Margaret Nicodemus (it was named after a friend of Mrs. Nicodemus), always started the day's work with a prayer. The eight women who worked for her would join her around the main ironing table. She always came to work dressed to the nines, with hat and necklace and tailored suit.
Lottie Anderson, 61, worked at the laundry 35 years. Right now she's at home waiting for her unemployment compensation to start. "I need some rest," she said. "But I sure hope they get going again pretty soon."
That's what the customers say. Betty Fulbright, wife of the former Arkansas senator, has for 30 years trusted the Louise with dress shirts and special items.
"A lot of us are going to be unspecial. I'm afraid," she said. "I hope they're careful whom they sell to."
Even if the Louise Hand Laundry does open again, one suspects it won't ever be quite the same.