There is no question that the most popular American outbuilding is the place where we park our cars. Some are connected to our homes. Others are separate. Some are just big enough for one vehicle. Others are bigger than the house itself with enough room for a workshop and even for your extra stuff.
It was described as “a new kind of outbuilding” by an architect in 1912 when the automobile was not yet commonplace, though on the threshold of the explosion of mass production in the 1920’s and the emergence of the Big Three— Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.
But it was not unusual for American homes to include a building on the premises in which they kept their chosen mode of local transport. It was called the carriage house, and many of our first garages were converted carriage houses— out with the horse and in with the car— or in the barn since so much of the country was agrarian then. Actually, cars coexisted with horses for a while in the carriage house.
In urban environments, people parked in the streets, but entrepreneurs realized there was money to be made from keeping cars out of the elements and they did something unusual. They rented space to park those cars, the precursor to the public parking garage. The downside was having to walk or take the trolley to your car.
As the years went by and the majority of Americans had a family car by the 1930’s, along with a quickly expanding road system that enabled them to travel greater distances, garages started being part of the architecture of new homes. Probably the most important and creative part of this building or attachment was the garage door.
The first garage doors were pretty much the same as barn doors— double doors that were hinged to open outward. It meant opening and closing the doors with each departure and arrival, and a few inches of snow on the ground would require considerable shoveling just to get the doors open. The need for convenience would soon raise its lazy head and the garage door would become part of a transformation.
Opening a set of doors took up exterior space and you certainly couldn’t open them inward. That opened the door, so to speak, for the sideways sliding track door that made more efficient use of space. Well, maybe not so efficient. A door that slides sideways has to have somewhere to go and that meant increasing the width of the building to accommodate it.
Sliding a door on a track wasn’t a bad idea. Why not slide the door up and down so, when open, the door is literally above the car bay? This required some inventiveness in design and gave birth to the folding overhead door— first operated manually and then by electric motor that could subsequently be set into motion remotely.
Today there are a wide variety of manufacturers of garage doors, with standard widths ranging for eight to 16 feet and, of course, custom sizes and designs.