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Lens on History: No carhops at this drive-in

September 12, 2018

Lawler Cleaners and Hotel Francis.

A fire on the night of Jan. 7, 1953, sent 25 guests of the Rommel Hotel into 11 degrees below zero darkness. The second-story hotel and five ground-floor businesses were destroyed. The remnants of the burned-out building were razed, creating a parking lot at corner of Broadway and Fourth Street Southwest.

That was when Lawler Cleaners owner G. Raymond Thiss saw an opportunity for expansion. The building next door to the hotel had been protected by a fire wall and sustained minor damage. Lawler Cleaners remodeled the back portion of the building and on Feb. 9, 1955, opened a branch office for the dry cleaning business that offered easy customer access and off-street parking.

Grand opening advertising referred to the location as “Rochester’s Newest Drive-In,” although no one really went out to your car to pick up your dirty laundry.

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