Photos from the Vault

No starch, please: SLO’s Auto Laundry car wash was source for soap and stories

Aquire “Johnny” Johnson, pictured in 1978, washed, waxed and detailed cars for 26 years at the San Luis Auto Laundry on Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo.
Aquire “Johnny” Johnson, pictured in 1978, washed, waxed and detailed cars for 26 years at the San Luis Auto Laundry on Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo. Telegram-Tribune

Need a dog groomer, auto detailer or windshield replacement service? They’ll come to you.

But a few decades ago, you had to stop by the San Luis Auto Laundry for car washing, waxing and detailing. 1978 marked the end of 26 years for the business.

It is hard to find a business downtown today that has been around for decades.

The Auto Laundry was located on Higuera Street, next to a Toyota dealership, in a building more utilitarian than ornamental. It was one of the quirky businesses the area had more of in the 1970s.

Tribune photographer Thom Halls wrote this story, published April 8, 1978.

26 years and a lot of soap

For 26 years, Aquire “Johnny” Johnson has washed, waxed and detail-cleaned thousands of cars for customers in San Luis Obispo County.

Inside the concrete block garage building on Higuera Street, steam rises as cars roll through his one-man assembly line operation.

In May, the last car will go through the San Luis Auto Laundry and “Johnny” Johnson will be out of a job.

“It’s time to retire,” quips Johnson.

The reality of retirement doesn’t seem to bother him, yet 26 years are hard to look back on.

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“I used to do 40 cars a day,” says Johnson, “But that was a long time ago when I had four people working for me. Today it’s just me, and if I do a complete detail job, it can take all day.”

The Auto Laundry is one of the city’s oldest businesses.

It has a barbershop-like atmosphere where friends and customers drop by to check out the latest stories and find where the fish are biting.

“Where they bitin’ this week, Johnny?” questions a regular visitor.

“Atascadero Lake,” replies Johnson, grinning, “Why, I can tell you stories …” and on it goes day in, and day out as the tales get better and better.

He doesn’t work on Saturdays.

“That’s the day I go fishin’,” says Johnson, “I figured long time ago if I couldn’t make it in five days I just wasn’t going to make it.”

Make it he does at his own pace, taking the time to, in his words, “do the job right” with every car that comes his way.

What does the future hold for Johnson?

“I’m going to take a long vacation, and then we’ll just see,” says the 63-year-old Johnson.

It would seem that time has passed the San Luis Auto Laundry by. Tradition will give way to progress. But for the many customers and friends who frequented “Johnny’s” place, the laundry will remain an important part of Higuera Street history for a long time to come.

David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. 805-781-7942, dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com, @DavidMiddlecamp
Visit www.sanluisobispo.com/photos-from-the-vault to see old photos and read selected archives.
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