January 21, 2021

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Seattle’s most well-known pink elephant has officially left its longtime spot on Denny Way in South Lake Union.

The Elephant Car Wash’s cheerful neon sign, which had been perched at the corner of Battery Street and Denny Way since 1956, was deconstructed and lifted from its site Tuesday afternoon. The move comes after landowner Clise Properties requested a demolition permit for the car wash in early October, sparking concern over the future of the beloved sign.

The 5,000-pound sign will first go to Western Neon in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood for conservation work, before heading to the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in South Lake Union. There, the museum will restore the sign’s neon lights, repair damaged and rusted elements, and take over long-term maintenance, according to a statement from MOHAI.

“MOHAI is pleased that Seattle’s beloved Elephant Car Wash sign is beginning its journey towards full restoration,” the statement said. “The Elephant Car Wash sign is one of Seattle’s signature icons and a cherished symbol of Seattle history.”

It’s still unclear where MOHAI will display the sign, but the museum said it will be “ideally publicly accessible.” Anyone hoping to contribute to the restoration efforts can donate to the project at MOHAI.org/elephant.

The move, however, was disappointing to some Seattleites, including those with Friends of Historic Belltown, a neighborhood conservationist group that had protested plans to donate the sign to MOHAI, instead pushing for it to stay in its current spot.

“I’m disappointed,” said Steve Hall, a land-use planning specialist at Friends of Historic Belltown. “It’s a classic private-versus-public rights and values. It is private property and a private object, but it has public value because it’s been there for so long — and the city has an ordinance to protect those public values.”

After the group asked the city to designate the elephant sign as a landmark, submitted public comments and continued to follow up, Hall said they never even heard back.

“It’s not only about the sign, it’s about respect for the citizens,” he said. “Seattle is changing, and that’s fine. … But there are certain anchors we need to keep in place to (remind us) who we are. This is an example of that type of anchor.”

The car wash closed temporarily in March to comply with coronavirus protocols, then announced last month that its Denny Triangle branch would shutter permanently. Its 14 other locations remain open.

Clise Properties is demolishing the car wash because it’s a health hazard, and the company currently does not have plans to develop or sell the property, CEO Al Clise told The Seattle Times last month.

Seattle Times staff reporter Katherine Khashimova Long contributed to this article.

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