Skip to content

Oasis Car Wash donates iconic signs to North Van museum

They’ve been North Vancouver landmarks for decades. Even though the Oasis Car Was has closed, the signs are being kept permanently.
MONOVA curator Andrea Terrón displays signs from North Vancouver’s now closed Oasis Car Wash, which will be added to the museum’s permanent collection. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News

North Vancouver’s Oasis Car Wash may be vanishing like a mirage, but its most recognizable symbols are here to stay.

MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver has acquired two of the Oasis Car Wash’s signs with plans to keep them in the permanent collection and put them on display.

The Four Seasons Oasis Automatic Car Wash operated at the corner of Bewike Avenue and Third Street from 1967 until the end of September, 2023, when owners closed it down, citing the rising cost of labour, taxes, insurance and materials with fewer customers coming in for a wash and wax.

The site is now being dug up for environmental remediation, but before anything could be lost permanently, MONOVA sought to salvage a couple of the Oasis signs.

“Of course, I welcome that type of recognition – that it will be put on public display, kind of like history of North Vancouver. I’m all for that, of course,” said Steve Daniels, owner of the Oasis.

Daniels started washing cars for the original owner, Elgin Arnold, 46 years ago.

It was a MONOVA volunteer who alerted the higher-ups that the car wash was closing, said Andrea Terrón, MONOVA curator. As word spread, Terrón said she was struck by the reactions people were having to the news.

“Everybody kept saying ‘I have pictures there.’ ‘I’ve taken my kids there.’ ‘I remember that place,’” she said. “I said this is something we need to protect, right? To keep.”

Terrón said there are other business signs in the collection, which might all be exhibited together at some point in the future, and there are other signs still up in North Vancouver that the museum would like to acquire when they’re no longer in use.

People may not often associate commercial landmarks with the stuff of museums, but Terrón they are very much a part of the story of a place.

“It’s a memory right? The memory of the community. We are keeping track of history, so it is very important to keep it and salvage that kind of patrimony, which usually doesn’t get the same attention as historical artifacts,” she acknowledged.

The smaller of the two donated signs was once mounted on the back of a taxi. Arnold had offered taxi owners 50 per cent off the price of a car wash if they displayed his signs on their vehicles.

“So, he had thousands of these signs all over the place,” Daniels said.

That came to an end in the early 1970s when a taxi driver backed into a pedestrian and blamed the collision on the sign blocking his sightlines, Daniels said.

The larger of the signs is a replica of one that Arnold installed on his private boathouse in Deep Cove.

“He was very proud of his business, very proud of the name,” he said. “It was there for years.”

Daniels said he doesn’t have any particular ideas for how the signs might be displayed, but he knows exactly which demographic will have the strongest reaction to them.

“I think it’s the older people – the people that have been living on the North Shore for many, many years, the ones that came to this car wash when they were young, and were still coming here when they’re in their 70s and 80s,” he said.

Full-service car washes like Oasis have been disappearing since the 1980s, when fully automated car washes entered the market, Daneils said.

“By the time we ended, we had 26 employees,” he said. “In this industry, that’s unheard of.”

Right now the signs are in storage, and Terrón is still working out how they can be incorporated into the permanent collection. In the meantime, they may be put out on temporary display. People’s personal experiences with a landmark or artifact are what imbue it with historical value and meaning, Terrón said, and so she wants people to share their memories of the Oasis car wash, which can then be compiled and incorporated into MONOVA’s future exhibitions involving the signs.

The Oasis signs won’t be the only legacy Arnold left in Metro Vancouver. The “swinging girl” sign in Burnaby Heights was commissioned by Arnold for his wife Helen’s store on Hastings Street in Burnaby, which sold children’s clothing. Daniels had the sign restored and donated to the City of Burnaby.

To shares memories about the Oasis car wash with MONOVA, email Terrón at [email protected].