Courtesy BTHL

This post is part of a monthly series that explores the historical applications of building materials and systems through resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization. Read more about the archive here.

The birth of the automobile—with its profound implications on individual transportation, accessibility, and industry in the 20th century—has been well documented, but the car also impacted the design of cities and buildings following its development.

The most obvious of example of this is the garage. Early automobile owners were typically wealthy and quick to build garages, which were quite lavish by today’s standards. Often marketed as fireproof, many structures to service and house this new technology were built using concrete and masonry with various hardware upgrades. The BTHL chronicles the evolution of garages, service stations, and novelty upgrades such as the drive-up window as automobiles grew popularity.

The Auto's Turn : A True Story Canton Foundry and Machine Co., Canton, Ohio, 1915.
An early upgrade for garage-owners, the auto turntable was intended for owners who wanted to avoid “the ‘backing up’ and ‘backing out’—‘the turning this way and that' of cars [that] created a confusion that was punctuated with vivid words, and now and then…an injured auto or shattered post.” Best for “narrow, awkward garages with limited space” according to this catalog, the vehicle turntable is marketed as a means to safely and easily move cars in and out of a garage.

Commercial Garages, Atlas Portland Cement Co., New York, c. 1916.
This comprehensive document—promoting the use of concrete—features two-story parking garage structures that are designed to match commercial buildings. This catalog highlights the need for fireproof vehicle-housing structures due to the “presence of gasoline and other inflammable oils.”

Planning and Operating Drive-in Filling Stations, Wayne Tank and Pump Co., Ft. Wayne, Ind.,1925.
The first automobiles were expensive, meaning gas stations were often located in wealthy neighborhoods. As such, early gas station designs often included residential-style buildings with covered gas pumps. This catalog advocates for including restrooms, prioritizing interior and exterior finishes, lighting the surrounding grounds, and incorporating heating and ventilation systems.

Ornamental Filling Stations and Lamp Standards, Union Metal, Canton, Ohio, 1925.
The Union Metal Company was primarily a manufacturer of ornamental lamp poles, but in the 1920s, they also sold an ornamental pre-fabricated metal gas station. Marketed as a necessity for keeping up with competing stations, these stylized filling station designs include decorative pillars and Union Metal’s ornate lamps for the surrounding area.

The Home Garage of Concrete Masonry, Portland Cement Association, Chicago, 1928.
Trade associations promoted gas station designs that featured their products. The Portland Cement Association promoted concrete designs for their fireproofing capabilities.

McKee Overhead Garage Doors, McKee Door Company, Chicago, c. 1940.
The overhead garage door was an innovation of the 1930s that ultimately replaced the more complicated sliding and folding doors of early 20th century garages.

Planning Automobile Dealers Properties, General Motors, Detroit, 1948.
Described as a collection of “ideas” for vehicle dealership designs, this catalog provides guidance on showroom placement relating to traffic, prioritizing natural light, used car lot designs, and sales office layouts.

Garage Plans and Ideas: How to Build a Better Garage, Detroit Steel Products Co., Detroit, 1953.
This planning guide provides various considerations for customers in selecting a garage design. Options include additional storage space, architectural style, door type, and driveway accessibility.

A New Dramatic Face for the Homes of America, Overhead Door Corp., Hartford City, Ind., 1953.
Emphasizing the importance of the garage door in the curb appeal of modern ranch homes, Overhead Door developed an extensive array of door designs incorporating color, geometric adornment, and windows.

Announcing Important New Improvements in Drive-in and Walk-up Windows, Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Co., Hamilton, Ohio, c. 1955.
The origin of the drive-up window can be traced to surviving examples from the 1920s, but the customizable drive up is shown here includes electric outlets, wind and bullet resistant covers, voice boxes for customer interaction, cash drawers, and switch lights.

Model 300 Sedcon Automatic Door Operator, Frantz Manufacturing Co., Sterling, Ill., c. 1955.
This door control transmitter was available in both an electric key and a remote control option for “the ultimate in convenience” to open a garage from up to 150 feet away.