Monuments to the auto age

Architectural history is one of the most fascinating mirrors of human existence. For far too long, America discarded its old structures and forgot the past human—built environment. Fortunately, the architectural preservation movement arose in the wake of the destruction of treasures, such as New York's Pennsylvania Station and Minneapolis's Metropolitan Building.

 

Los Angeles, where I am traveling this weekend, just saw the designation of a parking garage as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. Eighty years after its commisioning, The Ken Stoakes Parking Garage is reopening as an upscale downtown loft apartment building, having undergone extensive reconstruction, including meticulous restoration of the original cement flooring, glazed to a lustrous finish.

 

The very first generation of parking garages in the 1920's were disguised as ordinary office or apartment buildings on their exterior, many, like the Stoakes Garage, in the Beaux Arts style. They thus blended—in to the streetscapes they inhabited. Most of them used massive freight elevators to haul the cars to the upper levels, a process which required attendants. Needless to say, they were constructed with massive foundations and robust frames, to handle the weight of the parked cars.

 

The account of the LA Times paints an interesting picture of the dawn of the auto age, when drivers were preferred as customers of the downtown department stores, because they spent, on average, five times as much as those who arrived at the commercial emporia by foot or streetcar.

 

As a child in the 1950s, I was enthralled by these old parking garages, with their misleading exteriors, and their stark contrast with the modernist self—parking, ramp—bedecked structures built to accommodate the autos of the middle class. They were slightly mysterious and alluring, seeming to whisper that in the golden age of the 1920s, they knew how to do things more elegantly.

 

Not every old structure deserves to live on. But those which have a story to tell of a distinctive part of our history do. If we forget where we came from, we will be more uncertain of where to go.

Architectural history is one of the most fascinating mirrors of human existence. For far too long, America discarded its old structures and forgot the past human—built environment. Fortunately, the architectural preservation movement arose in the wake of the destruction of treasures, such as New York's Pennsylvania Station and Minneapolis's Metropolitan Building.

 

Los Angeles, where I am traveling this weekend, just saw the designation of a parking garage as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. Eighty years after its commisioning, The Ken Stoakes Parking Garage is reopening as an upscale downtown loft apartment building, having undergone extensive reconstruction, including meticulous restoration of the original cement flooring, glazed to a lustrous finish.

 

The very first generation of parking garages in the 1920's were disguised as ordinary office or apartment buildings on their exterior, many, like the Stoakes Garage, in the Beaux Arts style. They thus blended—in to the streetscapes they inhabited. Most of them used massive freight elevators to haul the cars to the upper levels, a process which required attendants. Needless to say, they were constructed with massive foundations and robust frames, to handle the weight of the parked cars.

 

The account of the LA Times paints an interesting picture of the dawn of the auto age, when drivers were preferred as customers of the downtown department stores, because they spent, on average, five times as much as those who arrived at the commercial emporia by foot or streetcar.

 

As a child in the 1950s, I was enthralled by these old parking garages, with their misleading exteriors, and their stark contrast with the modernist self—parking, ramp—bedecked structures built to accommodate the autos of the middle class. They were slightly mysterious and alluring, seeming to whisper that in the golden age of the 1920s, they knew how to do things more elegantly.

 

Not every old structure deserves to live on. But those which have a story to tell of a distinctive part of our history do. If we forget where we came from, we will be more uncertain of where to go.