One of the Coachella Valley’s most prominent landmarks along Highway 111 — the large pink elephant sign promoting a Rancho Mirage car wash — was designated as a historic resource by the city this week.
The neon sign, which promotes the Rancho Super Car Wash with a pink elephant spraying water from its trunk, was installed in 1966 — seven years before the city incorporated. Its design by Beatrice Haverfield was based on similar car wash signs she made for a company in Seattle.
With its designation as a historic resource, the car wash sign could still be altered or demolished, but any proposed changes would be subject to a more stringent review process at city hall. The city also has the right to relocate any historic property “as an alternative to granting the owner a demolition permit,” per Rancho Mirage municipal code.
The sign was included in the city’s 2003 historic resources survey, and the car wash’s current owners, Randy and Lorraine Barnes, applied for the designation earlier this year. The city has 73 other structures, largely mid-century modern homes designed by high-profile architects, already designated as historic resources.
The council’s vote for the designation Thursday coincided with an announcement from Preservation Mirage that the group plans to fully restore the sign in the coming months, in part thanks to a $5,000 donation from an unidentified homeowner.
“This is all about the preservation of significant sites in Rancho Mirage,” Dan Allen, the preservation group’s president, said in the announcement. “Our group’s founder, Melissa Riche, has long advocated for this project as a very visible symbol of the need to protect a beloved part of Rancho Mirage life.”
Preservation Mirage also noted the two pink elephant signs that remain in Seattle were designated as historic landmarks last year. The larger sign was donated to the Seattle Museum of History and Industry’s neon collection, while Amazon restored the smaller sign and placed it near its headquarters.
While the pink elephant has long been a fixture in the Coachella Valley, it also got some international exposure at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, when Puerto Rican star Bad Bunny featured the sign on stage during his headlining performance that was live-streamed globally.
Unlike the real sign, however, the pink elephant at Coachella did not last long: The headliner’s performance of the song “Safaera” ended with the backdrop, including the image of the neon sign, being engulfed in (digital, not real) flames.
Tom Coulter covers the cities of Palm Desert, La Quinta, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Highway 111's famed pink elephant car wash sign gets historic status