'50s era car wash with Mercury Montclair

The sparkling clean car is a 1955 Mercury Montclair finished beautifully in aqua and cream, inside and out. This model was among the first of the 50s cars to be recognized as a classic. Thankfully the location of where this ultra rare car wash shot was taken is revealed in the background by the space age LAKEWOOD CENTER sign. When I was a kid my Aunt Karen and Uncle Melvin lived in Lakewood and I spent a lot of time there.

Lakewood is one of Southern California’s most unique cities. In its day it was the biggest and most ambitious suburban tract home development ever. Covering more than ten square miles, it was promoted as the “world’s largest planned community.” And with each house equipped with a Waste King Pulverator, it was also called the “world’s first garbage-free city.

Started from scratch in 1950, by 1953 Lakewood had 135 miles of freshly paved streets, twenty parks, ten schools and seventeen-thousand cookie cutter homes, all surrounding the Lakewood Center.

The Lakewood Center was exactly that – the center of Lakewood. It was much more than just a shopping center. It was the modern equivalent of the classic town square. Along with a smart modern-style pedestrian promenade of shops there were office buildings, restaurants, a bowling center, theater, post office, civic center and car wash all perfectly complimented by parking for 12,000 cars

The crowning touch and center’s centerpiece was the tallest building in town, the May Co. department store. The giant towering yellow neon M’s that crowned the retail castle on four sides were each nineteen feet tall and visible from every street in town

Lakewood was basically an instant-just-add-water city with all the trimmings – Southern California’s very own utopia, the model suburban city