Desert Hand Car Wash is celebrating its 75th year of keeping vehicles clean in Palm Springs. Established in 1947, the decades-old business was recently purchased in May of 2022 by entrepreneur Bob Smiland. The previous owner of the popular car wash retired to Florida, and Smiland, a customer of the car wash for more than 20 years, saw an opportunity to help this respected Palm Springs business continue to flourish.
“I’m proud to continue the legacy of seventy-five years,” said Smiland. “I look at myself as a steward of this historic property and I have long respected and loved the crew who works here, some having been with this institution for more than thirty years. I’ve always had a fascination for cars, but now I LOVE them and I am so grateful for the trust people have to bring us their vehicles, from humble to classic. I am proud to offer our services to the community and we look forward to serving our valley residents and visitors for the next seventy-five years.”
To commemorate the business’ 75th anniversary, Smiland reimagined the company’s logo and is working with designer Jeff Shotwell to update the branding of the business and interior designer Christopher Kennedy to update and refresh the vintage lobby. Several seventy-fifth anniversary events are planned for the coming year.
“I’ve never owned a car wash before,” Smiland continued. “I am finding the learning experience to be intense, but this opportunity allows me to actively support my hard-working cleaning crew by providing higher pay and income growth to their working-class families, establishing a college fund, and offering other new benefits to ensure our crew continues to build a strong future for their families.”
Smiland honors family and has ten children, including spouses and grandchildren. His son-in-law, Nick Sanregret, is the manager of the business.
About Desert Hand Car Wash
Established in 1947, Desert Hand Car Wash has been keeping vehicles clean in Palm Springs for 75 years. It is the only 100% hand car wash in the Coachella Valleyand is known for the exceptional care taken for each vehicle that passes through its gates.
As a 100% “hand car wash” the business does not utilize conveyors or large cleaning machines that can often damage vehicles. Instead, a crew of carefully trained workers only uses soft towels and brushes to clean each vehicle. This crew provides personal care and does an intense visual inspection inside and outside for every car. The car wash features large arches to ensure the wash is safe for trucks and all vehicles.
The business was started in 1947 by Barbara McKinney Moore, daughter of Oliver and Rose McKinney, some of the earliest Palm Springs pioneers. The McKinneys moved to Palm Springs with their five children in 1915. Documents gathered by the Palm Springs Historical Society show that the McKinneys purchased 140 acres of land between Mesquite Road and the Biltmore Hotel on East Palm Canyon Drive, now known as the Deep Well community. The McKinney family owned a nursery, a trailer park and the Desert Hand Car Wash.
The car wash structure that still stands today at 645 South Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs was designed in 1956 by revered architect William Cody. He is known for designing the clubhouses at the Tamarisk, Eldorado, Seven Lakes and seven other Country Club developments, the Abernathy Residence, and as one of the architects of the 1955 Agua Caliente Spa Bath House (along with Wexler and Harrison and Phillip Koenig), and the adjacent Spa Hotel.
Television personality, actor, producer, and writer Heull Howser profiled the historic business in 2002, where he learned that in the 1950s, the business was referred to as the “car wash of the stars” as many of the roads in Palm Springs at that time were still dirt and as a result the cars that traveled on them quickly became dusty. The celebrities brought their luxury cars to the Desert Hand Car Wash to keep them clean.
As the years progressed, the Desert Hand Car Wash location saw many changes around them, but the venerated business remained the same, offering superior service to the owners of standard cars, SUVs, trucks, and vintage, luxury and electric vehicles.
About Bob Smiland
Smiland has had more than 40 years of business experience as a CEO, executive and chairman for private and public companies. In addition to his efforts as a volunteer and board member for multiple youth service and educational nonprofit organizations, Smiland also served as President and CEO of Inner-City Arts from 2013 to 2020. Inner-City Arts is located in Skid Row of downtown Los Angeles, serving 10,000 low-income youth each year. He continues his civic engagement here by working with the City to address homelessness and is optimistic about future solutions.
After leaving Inner-City Arts, Smiland managed video game company, which he sold to Netflix in February 2022 and then purchased the Desert Hand Car Wash. Smiland is a proud member of the LGTBQ community, and the car wash offers him the opportunity to fly the gay flag on a business he owns for the first time.