“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot,” is quite true, except in Los Angeles, where paradise is parking.
I’ve used the city’s ubiquitous parking lots as the hook to persuade Dodge to lend me a brand-new Viper SRT GTS, my bright red companion as I explore the most interesting ones in Los Angeles.
It took only about 30 years after the invention of the automobile for parking structures to appear, with the first built in Glasgow, Scotland sometime between 1906 and 1912. A multistorey garage was built in 1918 at Hotel La Salle in Chicago, commonly considered the first such building in the Americas. In the world of parking structures, however, there’s little room for nostalgia: the Botanic Gardens Garage is often in a state of legal limbo and the structure in Chicago was torn down some time ago.
Parking garages are different around the world, for good reason. In sprawling suburbia, land owners often try to keep them low, discreet, and capacious—lest they mar the background of a corporate training film. In cities such as Tokyo, cars are “parked” with the help of complex mechanical systems and then delivered one by one, like candy from a giant PEZ dispenser.
In still-car-crazy Los Angeles, things are a bit different.
Advertised as the luxurious city of the future and supported by both railroad companies and business associations to attract newcomers to California, a series of events through the ’10s and ’20s quickly turned Los Angeles into a hub that was driven by cars. As Matt Novak writes, L.A. went from more than 161,000 cars in 1920 to more than 800,000 by 1930.
“The city, unencumbered by the geographic restrictions of places like San Francisco and Manhattan quickly grew outward rather than upward; fueled by the car and quite literally fueled by the many oil fields right in the city’s backyard,” Novak says.
As a result, innovations like drive-throughs, supermarkets, service stations—and parking garages—spread like wildfire. It’s time to take a look.
— Moreno Valley Mall —
My first stop is Moreno Valley Mall in Moreno Valley, California, and it’s the closest the Viper will get to a race track. In 1957, this very site hosted the first race to be held at the Riverside International Raceway, a track that many older racers thought would be around forever, as Peter Brock tells me, because it was seen as so remote.
Now, that’s not the case. Los Angeles has raced to and swallowed up the historic track, with legal battles and land disputes ending with the gates closing in 1989. A shopping mall and subdivisions have been built in its place, with nothing remaining from the old track.
In period, a seminal 1957 race at Riverside launched the career of Dan Gurney, but in the years since, was the home of several serious accidents, as well as several movie and television productions—Grand Prix and Knight Rider included.
Today, it’s bleak and anonymous. It’s a suburban mall. I’m not one for malls or nostalgia, but they could’ve at least added a few chicanes to spice up the parking deck. Time to move on.
— The Grove —
Next, The Grove, a high-end shopping centre in the heart of Los Angeles. The Viper is a bit unwieldy in these close quarters, and the ramps between levels should be approached with caution.
This structure is on my list because I’m told that early in the morning it’s possible to get a great view of the city from the top deck; sadly, on this day I’d have to settle for the next floor down as the upper level was restricted to employees.
LA Weely says, “The top floor of The Grove parking lot is the absolute best place west of Griffith Park for sprawling, panoramic views of Los Angeles. Being dragged to a parking garage may not immediately mesh with a sightseer’s expectations, but there’s really little that compares with a patented, purple L.A. evening atop The Grove.”
Instead, I settled for a shot of the Viper among The Grove’s many imposing concrete columns. On the way out, I’m happy the Viper is one of the few cars here—I can’t imagine navigating this place when it’s busy.
—West Hollywood Library—
I’m not here for the parking garage itself—another disappointing mix of narrow lanes, cramped turns, and no upper deck—but for the murals painted onto the West Hollywood Library parking structure.
While I wasn’t able to capture the Viper alongside the mural by Kenny Scharf, the massive red, yellow, and black piece by Shepard Fairey matches the Viper perfectly. Known for the André The Giant-based OBEY image that now graces Fairey’s fashion label of the same name, it’s truly a work of art…located in a back alley away from tourist guidebooks.
Around the corner, however, I captured one of my favourite images of the Viper in front of the calligraphy-precise mural by RETNA. With the car in the frame, red, white, and blue never looked so good together.
Still searching for a great parking structure, however, I point the Viper toward Santa Monica.
—Santa Monica Place—
My first of two stops is one of the most recent parking garage developments in Santa Monica, a re-skin of an earlier Frank Gehry designed garage. Located next to the Santa Monica Place Mall, commenters online marvelled at its updated exterior by Brooks + Scarpa architects.
Indeed, from the street it’s an attractive—if cold—structure, and I’m eager to start taking photos.
Sadly, just when I park the car underneath the perfect “INDULGE YOURSELF” arrow, a security guard is less than pleased I’d have the gall to combine photography with parking, and asks me to leave. I hope my final stop will be more productive, only getting a huge Adidas ad on the way back out.
—Santa Monica Civic Center—
“It’s four blocks from the beach, but I think I’ve seen tourists getting their photos taken outside of it,” said James Mary O’Connor, principal architect for the Santa Monica Civic Center parking garage. I set up a quick interview with O’Connor after experiencing the structure for myself—by far the best of my tour.
O’Connor said that the City of Santa Monica had planned to erect a generic parking structure until being approached by the firm of Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planners to create something more innovative. It seems so obvious now, but at the time the firm had to pitch the city on building a more attractive, useful, and environmentally-friendly parking structure. But why parking?
“There are so many opportunities to design houses, museums, theatres, but it’s hard to stand out,” O’Connor said. Indeed, the structure has appeared across popular media, and he chuckles when I say I’ve jumped a car off of it in the video game Grand Theft Auto V.
With a colorful, easy-to-identify exterior, great views of the ocean from the top deck, a main floor café and other amenities, the building blends in quite well with the rest of downtown Santa Monica. Opening in 2007, plenty of attention has been directed toward the building because of something not normally associated with parking structures: sustainability.
As the first LEED-certified parking structure in the U.S., many of its charms are hidden behind its custom-painted German glass planks that adorn its exterior. Sustainable building materials, storm drain water treatment, and high-efficiency mechanical systems are hidden to visitors—but the solar panels on the roof are a visible sign that this is no ordinary parking garage.
Not yet, at least. But as our cities evolve, our transportation and parking will evolve to match. Now, nine years after this innovative structure opened to the public, I pilot the Viper through its well-designed core and park on the top deck.
Gaps between the solar panels let light dance across the Viper’s skin, the smell of the ocean is in the air, and the view is grand. It’s nice up here. As far as parking garages go, it’s the best one I’ve been to in Los Angeles.
For what it’s worth, the Viper seems at home, too.