The sweet, smiling blue whale is back where she belongs.
The vintage sign once again announces Whale of a Wash services in Manhattan Beach thanks to the quick thinking salvaging of a neighbor. The sign may be old and brittle, but the services at the dry cleaners and laundromat are changing with the times.
When Robert Oakley purchased the business in 2017, he and sister Diana Oakley were nostalgic for the friendly, baby beluga that welcomed customers to the Manhattan Avenue store. The siblings knew the sign well. They grew up in El Segundo and spent summers bumming around the neighborhood just north of the pier.
But, they never imagined they'd see it again.
Enter neighbor and Hollywood stuntman Eddie Braun.
Braun, born and raised in Manhattan Beach, said Whale of a Wash had always been part of his life. As he traveled all over the world doing stunt work for actors such as Chuck Norris and Lee Majors, he needed a place to keep packages and mail. And, he needed a place to do laundry.
When he spotted the previous owners dismantling the sign, Braun was upset.
"I hated to see that sign go," he said. "I like a bit of familiarity."
So, Braun approached them and offered to purchase the Whale of a Wash sign. He doesn't recall how much he paid, but he remembers it wasn't cheap.
"All he cared about was the money," said Braun, of the previous owners. "And all I cared about was the nostalgia."
Braun said he kept the sign in his garage for three to four years. Every time he'd see it there, it would bring a smile to his face, he said.
When the Oakleys took over Whale of a Wash, Braun struck up a deal: He'd give them the sign back for free only if they'd promise to put it back up.
The sign went up on the building within 10 days, said Diana. And, Braun got a private mailbox for life.
"They didn't seem like they were in it for the money," said Braun, "but more for the community."
And, indeed, it's that old-fashioned, homey atmosphere that Robert and Diana Oakley want to bring back to Whale of a Wash. They're re-inventing the laundromat business at a time when rents and expenses are sky rocketing and customers' needs are changing.
In addition to providing that home-away-from home atmosphere and private mailboxes, the store provides personalized laundry services, said Diana, such as:
- Traditional fluff and fold services
- Load-and-go services (you put the wash into the machines, they do the rest)
- Dry cleaning
- Pick up and deliver service
- Gift cards for expectant mothers
- Laundry sorting into family member boxes to make putting away easier
“We now also take in commercial accounts such as towels from salons, curtains and tablecloths from restaurants," Robert said. "We press and dry clean dresses and tuxes for the Manhattan Beach Middle School choir, as well.”
The laundromat has 24 washers and 24 dryers, and Oakley recently remodeled. Updates include indoor and outdoor seating, a kiddie corner and tiered tables for stacking and folding laundry.
Most of the laundromat’s regular customers live within a mile of Whale of a Wash, according to Robert.
Neighbors like Braun, who live within walking distance, appreciate the friendly service and are happy the little blue whale once again smiles down on Manhattan Avenue.
"I travel all around the world, and it's nice to come back," said Braun.
"When I see that sign," he said, "I feel like I'm home."
Whale of a Wash is located at 1209 Manhattan Ave. in Manhattan Beach. The store is open fully-attended from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday; from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday attended, and unattended until 9 p.m. on weekends. On the weekend only self-service wash services are available.
For more information, visit www.whaleofawash.com or call 310-545-4633.
—Genie Davis contributed