Ah, the humble garage! So little attention is given to the aesthetic and cultural history of these often-ugly little units. And yet they reflect our society’s relationship to the car, the privacy of the home, the definition of the middle class and the display of wealth.
Let us take you on a whistle-stop tour of garage history. The fascinating story of the ‘car hole’ – as Moe Szyzlak would have us call it – illustrated just how much meaning there is behind every corner of every home. This article will focus mainly on garages in the United States, where the integration of car storage into homes tells a clear story. There are no doubt parallel histories that are no less interesting in other nations, but for now, we will focus on the nation in which auto culture arguably made the biggest impact.
Today, bespoke garage doors and luxurious automatic opening systems are common. But what exactly facilitated the evolution of the garage?
The first garages were agricultural. Farmers set aside rooms in barns or built makeshift structures to service machinery. Soon, custom vehicle storage barns were created for the ever more mechanized late-19th century agricultural industry.
As the hyper wealthy adopted the car, large country houses would often have an automobile storage garage built as an extension to stables. These fell out of style because steam and petrol cars had a tendency to spook the horses!
Rise Of The Automobile
In the early 1900s, cars began to permeate American culture beyond the ultra-wealthy class that owned the first automobiles. Types like the Ford Model T bought the power of the car to ordinary people. Pre-war cars could not be stored on the street without incurring damage. They often had relatively open workings, needed specific fuel mixes and needed a place away from rail and dust. Early electric cars (which were remarkably popular) had to be kept in a warm environment because the primitive cells would freeze easily.
This proliferation of fragile cars among the masses prompted the garage explosion. Makeshift garages became a common sight on American housing lots. As land was plentiful in much of the United States, the addition of a garage to a home was often possible in a detached, shed-like fashion.
The Integration Of The Garage
As automobiles became firmly rooted in American culture, so the garage became firmly entrenched in the American home. In the 1950s, houses on the west coast were often designed with a garage completely integrated into the structure. The automobile had literally found its way into the American family house.
The history of the garage is not just related to auto culture. Garages provided a private space for all sorts of cultural flourishings. Most notably, garage spaces were connected with the birth of a new form of music: garage rock. Garage rock is shorthand for a kind of music that developed in the 1960’s – so called because it was often written by amateur bands practicing in garages. It exemplified the youthful rebellion of the new middle-class suburbanite teenager.
There you have it, the surprising roots of the humble garage.