This article was published online on February 12, 2021.
In the mid-1990s, when I was in middle school, my family moved to the suburbs of Seattle, where my father had gotten a job at Boeing. My parents would drive my sister and me down I-90 to the Bellevue Square mall on weekends, and I’d sit on the carpet of the B. Dalton bookstore, reading magazines. A mile and a half up Bellevue Way, in the garage of a rented house, Jeff Bezos was starting Amazon. For some time, Amazon’s influence was little noticed. In high school, the drive to my part-time job took me through what was then the nondescript South Lake Union neighborhood—dotted with auto shops, warehouses, and, along the waterfront, a few marinas. The main landmark was Denny Triangle’s Elephant Car Wash, with its pair of pink, elephant-shaped neon signs. It was a perfect specimen of the kitsch for which Seattle was known at the time, and I loved it.
Only recently has the South Lake Union area that I remember been transformed by the sprawling landscape of Amazon’s campus, which includes a Harry Potter–themed library, a dog deck featuring a fake fire hydrant, and three enormous, spherical plant conservatories. This past October, the Denny Triangle Elephant Car Wash closed down, under pressure from the pandemic and rising taxes and rent. Its owner donated one of the elephant signs to Amazon. “They asked for it, they wanted to have it,” Bob Haney told The Seattle Times. “So I gifted it to them.”