How Elephant Car Wash Became an Unforgettable Icon

The rotating pink neon sign is said to be one of the most photographed landmarks in Seattle

By Lara Hale and Lyra Fontaine

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May 16, 2016

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Seattle Magazine.

You know what they say: Washing your car is the surest way to bring on rain.

If that’s the case, many of Seattle’s drizzly days must be caused by Elephant Car Wash. The business traces its roots back to the 1940s, when Richmond Beach native Eldon Anderson and his business partners opened the Five Minute Car Wash, one of the country’s first semi-automated car washes. Over the years, Anderson used some of the skills he learned as a heavy equipment operator and builder (he reportedly worked on the construction of the Deception Pass bridge) to invent the first truly hands-free car washing system. In 1951, he convinced two of his younger brothers, Archie and Dean, to partner with him on a new enterprise: Elephant Car Wash.

Although the first location (there are now 14) was at Fourth and Lander in SoDo, the second location, opened in 1956 on Battery Street downtown, is the best known. Its rotating, pink neon sign—which has appeared in movies, music videos and ads, and has attracted patrons ranging from the Secret Service to Elvis Presley—is said to be one of the most photographed landmarks in Seattle.

 

Act Theater: History of Theatre group shot-cropped

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Photography by Tyree Harris

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Illustration by Arthur Mount

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Seattle artist and curator Anthony White challenges consumerism and societal hierarchy in his work.

Seattle’s Prince of Plastic

Artist Anthony White’s work offers deep, and sometimes uncomfortable, cultural commentary

Overheard conversation at artist Anthony White’s current exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum plays out like a zeitgeisty spoken-word soundtrack that weaves between the past and present, hitting various cultural milestones along the way. “Is that Lindsay Lohan?” “Look, Nintendo!” “Do you notice the Greek columns?” “Ah, Lisa Frank!” The joyful cacophony is a reaction…