Twin Cities Parking Garages

While exploring St. Paul and Minneapolis during the SIA, parking garages seemed to be everywhere. For some reason I was struck by the variety of structures: minimal concrete to elaborate garages with building facades. Take a look.

In Minneapolis, a parking garage (across the corner from the library) ... under some form of construction it seemed. A typical parking garage structure.

In Minneapolis, a parking garage (across the corner from the library) … under some form of construction it seemed. A typical parking garage structure.

Parking garage in St. Paul. No mistaking its purpose!

Parking garage in St. Paul. No mistaking its purpose!

This parking garage in Minneapolis looks like a child's toy - ramps for the matchbox cars!

This parking garage ramp in Minneapolis looks like a child’s toy – ramps for the matchbox cars!

Another basic parking garage in Minneapolis.

Another basic parking garage in Minneapolis.

This neon sign will make sure you see it from the street.

This neon sign will make sure you see it from the street.

Those above are more of your typical garage structure, though the curved ramp seemed a bit unusual. However, St. Paul has a few garages that bring it from parking structure to parking building, if you will.

A parking garage in St. Paul. Slightly hard to see, but look closely and you'll notice the facade.

A parking garage in St. Paul. Slightly hard to see, but look closely and you’ll notice the facade.

And then there’s this one:

It took a few times walking by this to decide that, yes, it was a parking garage. There is retail on the ground floor.

It took a few times walking by this to decide that, yes, it was a parking garage. There is retail on the ground floor.

The same parking garage during the day.

The same parking garage during the day. The metal cornice of the structure does well to blend it with surrounding architecture, giving the building a welcome presence on the street and when looking up (preservation tip: always look up).

This is obviously the star parking garage in terms of welcoming people and complementing the streetscape.

Listen to this NPR story about parking garages*, which states that “of all the American structures, few are so unlovable as parking garages.” It’s from 2009, when the National Building Museum had an exhibit called “House of Cars” on the parking garage.

Just a few tidbits from the story: There’s no exact beginning or inventor of the parking garage, but it was definitely a necessary structure. Early garages did look more like buildings (like the great example from St. Paul). You’ll hear that the open parking garages are from the mid 20th century. Early parking garages used elevators, and early garages were valet parked. Some had floors just for women so they felt safe. During the Cold War, you could get federal funding if your parking garage included a bomb shelter.

Thankfully, others are intrigued by parking garages, too. Read about parking garages in Chicago, And there is a book titled The Parking Garage: Design and Evolution of a Modern Urban Form by Shannon S. McDonald. More parking + garage history from the National Building Museum.

Now, what type of parking garage do you prefer? The open level type or those disguised to look like buildings with retail and services on the ground floor?

Do you like parking garages? Some can feel dark and damp, which make most people feel unsafe. Then again, parking lots can feel unsafe, too. Parking garages take up far less land than parking lots, thereby consuming less of the streetscape, hopefully preventing that urban wasteland feel. When designed to blend with the streetscape,however large or small, parking garages seem like they could solve many of our land-use and parking problems. That assumes that people will walk a bit rather than parking in front of the store, whether a strip mall or a downtown store. What do you think?

*Even if you’re not a NPR listener, give the parking garage story a chance. It’s fascinating and only five minutes long. Enjoy! 

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