Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 12, 2011

Workin’ at the Car Wash, Baby, C’mon!

A quick set of photo observations today on one of the institutions of Los Angeles that is fading from the scene.

You see them everywhere across the basin, on any of the big thoroughfares: the big, iconic car washes. No, car washes are NOT an endangered species in L.A., trust me. Someone once wrote that Angelenos don’t drive their cars, they wear them, and that means it’s essential — absolutely critical — to have a clean car. The market delivers, fueled not only by the autocentric culture, but by a plentiful supply of insanely cheap labor to wash the cars, relatively low real estate costs for vacant land and a cosmically clueless attitude to the use of water which — unbeknownst to most residents of this benighted zone — is not available in limitless quantities. Car washes of every variety are everywhere. There are the do-it-yourself vending-machine versions, there are run-of-the-mill car washes where someone does wipe off the car and there are incredible elaborate, upscale palaces of automotive laundering replete with lounges and concierge services.

Car washes are part of the common cultural detritus surrounding life in southern California, having spawned innovations like the bikini car wash and even, god help us, a minor hit song, which as soon as I mention it is going to have that inane tune and lyrics repeating endlessly in your head, not to mention the associated movie (1976), whose cast included Richard Pryor (every film in 1976 had Richard Pryor), George Carlin, Ivan Dixon and the Pointer Sisters, among others. CLICK HERE for the listing on

But the car wash emporia of today lack a certain visual style and — dare we say — architectural brio corresponding to the iconic role they play in our daily. It wasn’t always so. There was a day when car washes were palaces of worship, signaling by their very appearance that this was a place.

Many are still here, and still operating. Although I haven’t done the research, I have no doubt that one or more individuals has become fascinated enough by the subject to hunt them all down and assemble a mammoth coffee table book of photography on the subject. I’m not obsessed by this issue, but one can’t help notice them. Over the course of a year or two, with camera at the ready, one could easily compile a gallery of dozens or scores of them, strung out along Crenshaw and Western, Pico and Rosecrans, all across L.A. Instead, today, we’ll look at three one can pass by in the course of a thirty minute drive (not counting stops to get the photos).

There’s probably also an official or quasi-official term for this style of architecture, but I’m not driven to find it. I’ll leave that to the experts. It’s rather self-explanatory, and comes to us as a stylistic theme as recognizable as the details on Art Moderne or Baroque architecture. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Hawthorne Blvd. and Lennox, Lennox.

Lennox Car Wash

Lennox Car Wash detail

Hawthorne Blvd. near Redondo, Lawndale.

Hawthorne Blvd. near Redondo

And, a “colonial” touch on Pacific Coast Highway near Hawthorne in Torrance.

Pacific Coast Highway, Torrance

2017: The Torrance location was long-defunct, and has since been developed into a strip mall, the fate of all L.A. real estate. Just another day in L.A.

© Brad Nixon 2013, 2017



  1. I’m loving the pink one. Why does the blue one say R and A? Are the other letters in the trees somewhere, or have they left the premises?


    • Yes, there’s one letter per “spire,” spelling out C-A-R-W-A-S-H going one way down Hawthorne and H-S-A-W-R-A-C the other. Sorry, It was going to take me twenty minutes of life-threatening pedestrianizing along one of the world’s busiest surface streets to get a really good shot, and it was sprinkling rain. Angelenos, of course, don’t have raincoats or anything, so you take what you can get. When I do the coffee table book I’ll hire someone else to go risk their life for the shot. That car wash is still in service.


  2. Hi Brad,

    The land that the car wash on PCH sits on is owned by the Nakano family (former Torrance city council member). Family wants to build retail on the site but the Nakano grandma (up there in years) is the holdout for more money. This site has been a eyesore for years and a council member said years ago that those that drive down from “the hill” see this and it makes Torrance look bad. Hawthorne Blvd is another story…..


    • Michael, thanks for the local info. I’m glad to have a lifelong resident who’s tapped-into all the behind the scenes work.


  3. Thanks for the tour Brad. I’ve never visited your fair city, but love the way that you view it.


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