Orient Hand Laundry

By Tom Modugno of Goleta History

We recently lost another long time Goleta business. Orient Hand Laundry closed their doors in 2023. When we heard they were closing, I went over to talk to the owner, Kin Yu, who has been an Old Town acquaintance for decades.

I found him and his wife cleaning up the already emptied shop. He wasn’t really interested in being interviewed, and didn’t have any old photos, but he did tell me a few things that should be recorded here. Later we were provided more great info and photos that Kin’s cousin, Ming Lew, had shared with local historians Michael Montenegro and Betsy Green.

The man that started the business was King C. Lew. King was 6 years old when he boarded a ship bound for the United States in 1930. Thirty days later, he arrived in San Francisco where he was quarantined for 3 weeks before being released. King made his way down to San Diego to live with his uncle who ran a laundry business there. He started working in his uncle’s shop in 1939 since job opportunities were very limited for Chinese immigrants.

When King graduated from Point Loma High School in 1944, he wanted to serve in the military, but was refused due to poor eyesight. Instead, he got a job at a Chinese laundry in Long Beach where he was soon promoted to “head wash-man”. He saved his money and in 1949, he bought his own laundry business in Los Angeles for $500. He ran that shop all by himself for twelve years before selling it and going back to Hong Kong for an arranged marriage.

Overseas, he married Chiu K. Yu and the newlyweds returned to the U.S. But this time King decided to settle in the Santa Barbara area. Before long he found an empty store in Goleta, borrowed some money from friends for equipment and in 1964 he opened the Orient Hand Laundry on Fairview Avenue.

This great photo shows the young family in 1966, in front of their business. Notice the Seaside gas station at the intersection of Fairview and Hollister in the background. Also notice the huge billboard that is no longer there, featuring an ad for Thompson-Fauskee Ford.

We found this ad in the 1964 phone book, making the brand new Orient Hand Laundry legit. The building may have been moved to that location from somewhere else, which was fairly common back in the day.

We looked back to see when when the building showed up in that location. This 1948 photo shows the healthy Original Two Hangars on the left, but right across the creek where the Orient Laundry would be sat a vacant lot. Whether it was built on site, or moved from somewhere else, it appeared there around 1959.

This 1965 shot shows the Orient Laundry building in place on Fairview Avenue. We highlighted a couple other fun things in Goleta in 1965. 1= the Airport Drive-In Theater in its prime. 2= Swingers Golf Course with a full parking lot. 3= Another glimpse of the Original Two Hangars.

This is their 1972 phone book ad, showing how much competition they had. For three decades, King and Chiu ran the business. Meanwhile, they raised 5 children and helped Chiu’s mother and her brother, Kin, immigrate and live with them. All the family members helped work in the shop.

The growing family lived in Old Town Goleta, right behind the laundry building. Their home was right by Duffy’s Bar on Orange Avenue, a rowdy old dive bar that often woke the family up late at night.

The hardworking couple eventually had 5 children, plus King’s nephew and Mother in law, making it a total of nine people living in two small connected apartments.

King and Chiu expected their children to do well in school, but also they had to help with the family business. Before school, the kids went into the laundry and fired up all the machinery so that it was ready to go when their parents came to work. After school, the kids went back into the laundry to help work while doing on their homework.

Since they were all busy in the shop, dinner was eaten at a large table in the back room of the laundry. All the kids worked at the laundry off and on through high school. They were fluent in English and Cantonese and two of them went on to earn Ph.D.’s!

The Lews worked almost constantly, so there wasn’t a lot of time for social activities, but every Chinese New Year they would hold a large banquet and invite lots of friends. This, of course, also took place in the laundry! Notice the large washing machine in the background.

Always laughing, King entertaining guests at a Chinese New Year banquet. With him is Dr. Alexander Donald and Nurse Dottie from Goleta Valley Hospital.

The Lews worked 6 days a week, taking Sunday off to visit friends in Los Angeles or sometimes King would go surf fishing at El Capitan. Whatever he caught was on the table for Sunday dinner. By 1979, they were able to buy a home on Placer Drive in Goleta with a backyard for the kids and room for a vegetable garden. Above is an ad from the Goleta Sun in 1973.

In 1992, King Lew decided to retire. I remember seeing King in Old Town Goleta regularly and he was always happy and quick with a joke. A very proud Chinese American and an asset to the community.

King’s brother-in-law, Kin, went to Goleta Union School and San Marcos High School and after graduating, he served in the Navy for 10 years. When he returned to Goleta, his sister asked him to take over the laundry business. So in 1992, Kin became the proprietor of the Orient Laundry.

The best way to learn about how he did would be to read the reviews that are still online. Everyone raved about the service, the quality of work, and the friendly staff, Kin and his wife Kam. Here’s an example- “My clothes always come back beautifully laundered and the owners are the sweetest people to deal with”.

A big attraction was the way the finished laundry was packaged, and several customers commented on that as well. “It was wonderfully laundered and packaged in paper with a string in the form of a bow around it. I loved opening each package to find them fabulously folded with like items and next to no wrinkles. Thank you! “

Another rave review writes- “I swear once you go they will fast make brown paper packages tied up with string literally become your absolute favorite thing!!!”

So it was a sad day when regular customers came to find this sign on the front door. When asked why he decided to close down, Kin said the cost of doing business just became too much to overcome. A common refrain for small businesses these days. But this particular small business had one heck of a good run.

Good luck to Kin and Kam and thanks for taking over the orient Hand Laundry and being a valuable part of Goleta for over 30 years. We hope the next chapter of life is rewarding for them.

After this story posted, Goleta local Todd Borden sent us this beautiful rendition of the Orient Hand Laundry building, painted by Patricia Chidlaw in the 1990s. Thank you Todd.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the old laundry building next….

Special thanks to Michael Montenegro of Chicano Culture SB, Betsy Green, Todd Borden and especially Ming Lew, King’s son, for sharing some of his personal history.

Read more at GoletaHistory.com


Written by tMo

Tom Modugno is a local business owner, surfer, writer, and community activist. He also runs GoletaHistory.com and GoletaSurfing.com

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  1. What a GREAT immigrant success story! Dedication to family, hard work and a sense of pride in what you do all equates to the American Dream- It still exists folks. My wife goes to get pedicures from a Vietnamese family run business, both their kids are successful with one obtaining a PHD in Chemistry and the other a Pharmacist.

  2. Congrats to the Lew family and Kin & Kam on a great run!
    The earlier immigrant Chinese families faced many barriers such as the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) and the eugenics-fueled Asian Exclusion Act (1924, lifted in 1965 by Lyndon Johnson). Thanks for memorializing one of these stories Tom.

  3. Another great post Tom. Thanks! We’ve enjoyed a leisurely perusal, pausing to look at many of the pix. One in particular got me off on a tangent: 1948 view that includes the historic SBA hangars. Across San Pedro Creek is an isolated free-standing fairly tall double wall. The long wall takes a bend at the North end and the short wall looks very slightly parabolic. Maybe a long-wave radio installation of some kind, with a structure aimed at the middle of the curved wall and a small shack in line with it across the creek. Completely gone in gMaps sat view, in the flat bare lot next to a paved parking lot. Any ideas on what it was.

  4. I fondly remember Orient Laundry. I came to Goleta in 1963 after graduating from college in engineering. I used Orient to wash my white shirts after they opened in 1964. Always prompt and shirts neatly folded.
    We bought our first house (4 BR, 2 BA) in May 1965 on Parkhurst Dr in the brand new Crestview Oaks tract for $21,250.00. We then had a washer and dryer so shirts were washed and dried at home.

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