Frantz Cleaners in Pomona to hang it up after 85 years

Frantz Cleaners in Pomona to hang it up after 85 years

Frantz Cleaners is part of the fabric of Pomona.

The business has been cleaning and pressing clothes since the 1930s, first on West Holt Avenue, then at Garey and Orange Grove avenues.

Every day, thousands of motorists pass the dry cleaner and its 1950s rooftop sign as they round the corner on Garey on their way to or from the adjacent 10 Freeway.

“It’s such an icon for the city,” says owner Kay Richards as we admire the sign and its beckoning arrow from the sidewalk on Monday morning. “The neon finally gave out, so we don’t have that anymore. But it’s a nice sign.”

Within days, though, Frantz Cleaners will be returning its last garment.

Richards turned 81 on May 13. Her husband, Frank, who ran the business with her, died in 2019. Readying to relocate to the couple’s second home in Wickenburg, Arizona, she’s sold the property to a couple who tell her they don’t intend to keep the cleaners.

Her last day of business is June 7, or possibly a few days earlier.

“It’s time to retire,” Richards says.

  • Longtime customer Alicia Hernandez drops off some items with employee...

    Longtime customer Alicia Hernandez drops off some items with employee Harriet Cotterman at Frantz Cleaners on Monday to be pressed. The business still writes up tickets by hand. It’s closing June 7 after more than 85 years. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

  • Kay Richards is closing Frantz Cleaners, a dry cleaner in...

    Kay Richards is closing Frantz Cleaners, a dry cleaner in Pomona that dates to the 1930s and whose corner location and 1950s sign serve as a visual landmark for thousands of motorists daily. “It’s time to retire,” says Richards, 81. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

  • Kay Richards is closing Frantz Cleaners, a dry cleaner in...

    Kay Richards is closing Frantz Cleaners, a dry cleaner in Pomona that her family has owned since 1958. The frontage along Garey Avenue bears the message “It is our pleasure to serve you.” (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

  • Kay Richards holds a wooden hanger from Frantz Cleaner’s original...

    Kay Richards holds a wooden hanger from Frantz Cleaner’s original location, bearing its four-digit phone number and grammatically mysterious slogan, “Prosperized Cleaning.” (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

  • This framed photo shows Frantz Cleaners’ original location at 136...

    This framed photo shows Frantz Cleaners’ original location at 136 W. Holt Ave. The business opened in 1937 and had a neon sign, just as it more famously would later when Frantz moved uptown. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

  • Alex Manalili has been cleaning and pressing at Frantz Cleaners...

    Alex Manalili has been cleaning and pressing at Frantz Cleaners since 1997, when the owners hired him. At 66, he hopes to continue working after the business closes. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

  • No more cleaning jobs are being accepted at Frantz Cleaners,...

    No more cleaning jobs are being accepted at Frantz Cleaners, which is closing June 7 after more than 85 years in business in Pomona. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

  • Kay Richards is closing Frantz Cleaners, a dry cleaner in...

    Kay Richards is closing Frantz Cleaners, a dry cleaner in Pomona that dates to the 1930s and whose 1950s sign serves as a visual landmark for thousands of motorists daily. “It’s time to retire,” says Richards, 81. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

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After more than a half-century in the business, she’s sad about it, of course. So are customers. They tell her she can’t close.

“Some of them have been coming here all their lives,” Richards says, “since they were kids and they were with their parents.”

She and Frank lived next door. If it was a hot day and children in the small waiting area were rambunctious, Frank might pop home and bring them back ice cream cones.

The Frantz sign says “Since the 1950’s,” but that’s not the full story. With the aid of the Pomona Public Library’s archives, let me iron out a few wrinkles before we go to press.

In 1937 the Frantz brothers, Herman and Arthur, opened their dry cleaners at 136 W. Holt. Motto: “It Has to Be the Best.” How would you reach them? According to a newspaper ad, just dial 1087.

By 1952, according to the city directory, the business was owned by M.F. Baker. Baker moved Frantz Cleaners to 1490 N. Garey sometime that year.

It was a canny move. The 10 Freeway would open in 1954, making the corner highly visible.

In 1958, Charles Kilmer and his son William took on the business and eventually bought the property, including the adjoining coin laundry. William was Kay’s father. Kay and Frank then took over in 1970. (Her brother, Billy, was a professional football star.)

“My dad, he thought about changing it to Kilmer Cleaners,” Kay recalls of the Frantz name. But the sign was so large and so elaborate, he couldn’t see the point in replacing it.

The motto on the sign: “In by 10, Out by 4.” William Kilmer coined that.

“We did that for years,” Kay Richards says. “We had four presses and I’d have that many people pressing clothes all day.”

During the 1970s and ’80s, with General Dynamics a major employer in the area, “people just poured in,” Richards says. The line to drop off or pick up clothes might go out the door and onto the sidewalk, with up to five people working the counter.

Frantz also had a drive-through of sorts, with a lane for cars to pull up for service. And until someone complained about racks of clothes on the sidewalk, there was a twice-a-year sale of unclaimed clothing.

Frantz is somewhat frozen in time, with decor that includes a yellowed “Shoe” comic strip taped to the counter and a pinned-up Christmas card from 2006. Pieces of laundry equipment date back a half-century or more. In an era of email and text reminders, Frantz continued phoning customers and writing tickets by hand.

“It worked out,” Richards says with a smile. “Nobody was in that big of a hurry that they couldn’t wait an extra two minutes.”

Alex Manalili has been working at Frantz since 1997.

Alex Manalili has been cleaning and pressing at Frantz Cleaners since 1997, when the owners hired him. At 66, he hopes to continue working after the business closes. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Alex Manalili has been cleaning and pressing at Frantz Cleaners since 1997, when the owners hired him. At 66, he hopes to continue working after the business closes. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

As he presses a graduation sash, Manalili tells me that Frank had emphasized to him: “You will work with me, not for me.” Despite entreaties to take a break, Manalili, now 66, never claimed a vacation or a sick day.

Kay has bequeathed him all the equipment. If the buyer lets him stay on the premises for a while, he’ll keep working, or if not, maybe he’ll set up somewhere else.

“My husband made him promise he’d stay with me until the end,” Richards says in Manalili’s presence. “Well,” she says to him fondly, “this is almost the end.”

In by 10, out by June 7.

Gloria Molina, quilter

I met Gloria Molina just once, in 2007, when the Los Angeles County supervisor was among the dignitaries at the opening day ceremony for the LA County Fair. Someone at the microphone mentioned casually that Molina entered the quilting contest every year under an assumed name to avoid influencing the judges. I approached her to ask about that.

“I use a different name each year, and I’m from a different place,” Molina told me cheerfully. “I’ve won a couple of times.”

Molina, besides her political achievements, co-founded The East Los Angeles Stitchers quilting group. Since her death May 14 at age 74, the fair’s top quilting award has been named for her.

A quilt in the Home Arts area was entered under her name this year. She got a first place. The judges may or may not have been influenced this time by Molina’s name, or by the news that she was in the latter stages of cancer.

I visited the fair Sunday to check out the quilt. I wasn’t alone.

“People are coming to the fair to see it,” said Michelle Pederson-Tomes, who was working in the Home Arts area. In fact, we’d been talking for only seconds when a woman walked up to ask if this was Molina’s quilt.

Hanging next to it in the same case is the winner of the fair’s inaugural Gloria Molina Quilting Award. Produced by the Long Beach Modern Quilt Guild, the winning pattern is like a 1950s modern-art design done in quilt form.

I’m told that 12 members of the guild worked on the quilt during COVID in round-robin style, the completed pieces dropped off at the next member’s doorstep, with the effort taking seven months.

Molina would be proud. Check out both quilts, as well as the rest of the Home Arts contributions, before the fair closes on Memorial Day.

David Allen writes Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, his pattern. Email dallen@scng.com, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.

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