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July 2, 2022

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Elephant Car Wash sign may get landmark status

Seattle’s preservation board to consider proposal July 6

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SEATTLE — The famous bubble gum pink and neon Elephant Car Wash sign could become a permanent fixture in downtown Seattle.

On July 6, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board will consider the sign for landmark status.

When the Elephant Car Wash on Battery Street near Denny Way closed in 2020, community members, the Museum of History & Industry and developers weighed in on what to do with two iconic signs originally installed in 1956.

The car wash’s larger sign was donated to MOHAI, against the wishes of a neighborhood preservationist group, and the smaller sign, now being considered for landmark status, was donated to Amazon.

The sign is undergoing restoration in a South Seattle studio, according to the application for landmark designation. The proposed plan calls for the sign to be placed in an open plaza near the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue and Blanchard Street with a plaque marking it as a piece of “privately owned public art.”

The Landmarks Preservation Board will meet at 3:30 p.m. July 6 — in-person at Seattle City Hall and online — kicking off a four-step process.

During the meeting, the application will be formally presented and the board will vote on whether to approve the nomination.

If approved, a public meeting will be 30 to 60 days later, where the public can once again weigh in. The board will then vote whether to designate landmark status.

If it moves forward, the city’s historic preservation staff will work with Amazon to develop an agreement with the site, which could include incentives such as tax breaks and building code exemptions, which the board will review.

Then, the agreement is written into an ordinance that the Seattle City Council ultimately votes on.

In order to be designated for landmark status, a building, object or site must be at least 25 years old and meet at least one of six criteria, including being associated with a historic event, architectural period or contributing to a “distinctive quality or identity” of the city or a neighborhood.

The car wash’s Battery Street location temporarily closed in March 2020 to comply with coronavirus protocols. It announced a permanent closure citing difficulties retaining staff and paying taxes and rent on the property.

The land value of the lot, now surrounded by office towers and glittering apartment buildings, has risen 166 percent since 2009, when Amazon announced it was relocating its headquarters from Beacon Hill to South Lake Union.

Last August, the Sodo location of the Elephant Car Wash closed. While the company still runs other locations around Puget Sound, the Sodo location was the last Seattle operation open.

The public will be permitted to make comments in-person or submit written comments about the nomination during the July 6 meeting. More details about how to participate can be found by visiting st.news/elephantcarwash.

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