A history of the Pink Elephant Car Wash sign that was unanimously nominated a Seattle city landmark

·2 min read

The pink Elephant Car Wash sign was nominated as a Seattle city landmark, in a unanimous vote by the Landmarks Preservation Board.

Originally at 616 Battery St., the iconic sign was donated to the Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry, to join their neon collection along with the Rainier Brewery ‘R’ and the Washington Natural Gas blue flame sign.

According to History Link, in 1951, Eldon Anderson and his wife Virginia opened a “Five Minute Car Wash” on 4th Avenue South and Lander Street.

Eldon moved around the state helping with projects, such as the construction of the Deception Pass Bridge, settling down during World War II where he found work in the Boeing Metal Stamping Shop.

Eldon and his brother, Dean, invented the first automated, no-touch car wash that included a pulley-system, soap and water nozzles and an overhead sprinkler.

By 1956, a third brother, Archie, joined the business. A second car wash, known as Super Car Wash, opened at 6th Avenue and Denny Way. Interstate 5 hadn’t been built yet and the high traffic location, just off Highway 99, was close to downtown businesses and shopping.

Archie came up with the idea of an elephant because the animal essentially had its own water hose, thinking it would be a good name and logo.

Campbell Neon, the sign company they hired to build the sign, suggested it be pink. In the 1950s, pink elephants were a common theme among fun and festivity, and could be found on ceramic platters, salt and pepper shakers, tie tacks and more.

The sign was designed by Beatrice Haverfield, who was responsible for the design of other Seattle landmark signs, including Ivar’s Acres of Clams, Sunny Jim Peanut Butter and Dick’s Drive-In.

She designed a large rotating elephant with lots of blinking lights and four baby elephants at the base. The four baby elephants may have been an homage to Haverfield’s four children.

In 1963, the Andersons opened a third car wash on Pacific Avenue South in Tacoma. Business was flourishing and the Andersons were always looking for opportunities to promote their business, including figuring out how to position an actual elephant on pontoons for a photo shoot to make it look like it was water skiing.

The Andersons would sell most of their business to Bob Haney, retiring and traveling the world. They sold their last car wash, the Tacoma location, in 1997.

Haney announced closure of the Denny location in 2020 due to criminal and drug activity, rising costs and “regulatory demands.” By 2020, the land that was originally leased to the Anderson brothers in 1951 was now valued at $20 million.