Those fond of complaining that Amazon is swallowing up Seattle may have a new reason to gripe.
A very pink reason.
The Elephant Car Wash has donated the smaller elephant sign at its much-photographed Denny Triangle location to Amazon, carwash owner Bob Haney confirmed Tuesday.
“They asked for it, they wanted to have it,” Haney said. “So I gifted it to them.”
The tech giant will restore the sign, an Amazon spokesperson said, but hasn’t decided yet where to display it.
The carwash’s larger sign — a bubblegum-pink rotating carnival of bent neon and 380 blinking lights — is slated to go to the Museum of History & Industry, though a community group is hoping the city will decree the carwash lot’s owner, longtime Seattle developer Clise Properties, must keep it in place.
“There’s this exquisite irony to Amazon taking the sign,” said Cynthia Brothers, who chronicles Seattle’s changes on Instagram under the moniker Vanishing Seattle. “The elephant met its demise because of all the changes happening around it, that area being swallowed up by Big Tech. And now Amazon is going to claim it and hang it like some sort of trophy.”
The carwash closed temporarily in March to comply with coronavirus protocols, then announced last month that its Denny Triangle branch would shutter permanently. The company could no longer afford to pay taxes or rent on the property, a spokesperson said, and found it difficult to retain staff at that location. Its 14 other locations remain open.
The carwash lot, appraised by the county at $1,050 per square foot, is one of the most valuable pieces of empty land in the city. Surrounded by Amazon office towers and sleek apartment-blocks-to-be, the 19,000-square-foot parcel is ripe for redevelopment.
Amazon’s expansion in South Lake Union — transforming the neighborhood’s low-slung light industrial landscape into a forest of gleaming office buildings, apartments and condos — has heralded the closure of many local businesses, a process accelerated in recent months by the pandemic.
While Vulcan Real Estate director Ada Healey once referred to South Lake Union before Amazon as a “sea of parking lots,” the district was also home to “dive bars and music and artists and families,” Brothers said, including local favorites like the Hurricane Cafe, all-ages club DV8 and, until recently, Re-bar.
Since 2009, when Amazon announced it would relocate its headquarters to South Lake Union from Beacon Hill, the carwash’s appraised land value has risen by a whopping 166%, ballooning its tax bill, according to the county.
On balance, an Amazon building isn’t the worst possible place to hang the elephant, neon historian and KIRO radio host Feliks Banel said.
“It’s a bummer it’s not going to a more permanent situation — a private company can do whatever they want with it,” he said, including toss it out if the whim strikes them. “But if it’s at least mildly public, that’s better than going into the home of a private collector somewhere so it never sees the light of day again.”
It’s possible that the elephant could wind up in the lobby of one of Amazon’s South Lake Union offices, which would keep it in view of the public, a company spokesperson said.
Still, the carwash closure and sign’s transfer to Amazon seem emblematic of rampant changes in South Lake Union, and the city as a whole, Brothers said.
As rent and property tax hikes compel longtime Seattle businesses to close and residents to seek out more affordable housing, Brothers said she’s noticed “a lot of anxiety around the identity and soul of Seattle.”
“Is Seattle still a place of subversiveness, grittiness, art? Are you still welcome here if you don’t make six figures a year?” she said. “What kind of city are we becoming?”