A California Car Wash Neon Sign Just Got Historic Designation
Some communities hate colorful, flashy neon signs. For others, they think this pink elephant with a tiny cap neon sign should stick around for future generations. At least in Rancho Mirage, just east of Palm Springs, that’s the consensus for the infamous Rancho Super Car Wash neon sign. This past September, the Rancho Mirage City Council was unanimously in favor of designating the automotive sign historic, giving it protection from removal.
The car wash, now known as Elephant Car Wash, has been at this same location since 1966. Back then, Rancho Mirage was, and in some ways still is, a rich enclave. It was once home to old Hollywood movie stars like Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. Even former president Gerald Ford and his wife Betty were living there for over 30 years. It was the more affluent and exclusive extension of Palm Springs.
How old is the Elephant Car Wash sign?
Preservation Mirage, a non-profit group that seeks out historic sites for preservation, began its quest to save the sign earlier this year. Its website says it “celebrates the architectural history of Rancho Mirage by promoting its protection and appreciation.” The timing coincides with one of the neon signs returning out of mothballs to its former glory in Seattle, Washington.
That’s where the chain of car washes got its start back in the early-1950s. When the original owner’s daughter and family moved to Palm Springs in 1966, they started their own Elephant Car Wash. The significance to Washington is that many retirees who came in motorhomes from the Pacific Northwest to Palm Springs found a familiar business upon arrival.
Why did they save the Elephant Car Wash sign?
The car wash sees over 5,000 cars a week at $24.99 per car. Its owners say, “It was the first in southern California to use the tunnel conveyor car wash system.” For an additional charge, you can also get an “express wax” finish.
“What is there along Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage that people see every day and feel some kind of connection to, Preservation Mirage founder Melissa Riche asks SFGate. “The pink elephant Rancho Super Car Wash neon sign is absolutely beloved by everybody in the valley because everybody drives past it at some time or another. It’s probably one of the most photographed sites in the whole Coachella Valley. I thought, ‘Well, this is something commercial that everybody in Rancho Mirage feels connected to.’”
Car wash sign to be restored
For now, the sign is not in the best condition, but that will soon change. Preservation Ranch Mirage held a fundraiser to bring in donations to restore the old sign back to its former glory. Old wiring and non-working blue, red, and green neon will get the heave-ho. The sign will also get new paint. Next year, it will be removed for several months to conduct the restoration.