This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

How, and why, downtown Phoenix turned into parking lots in the 1960s


Everyone hates parking lots, and agrees that they are a blot on a beautiful city. Of course, people need to park their cars. And in a city like Phoenix, there are a LOT of cars.

If you lived in Phoenix in the early twentieth century, you saw the invention of the horseless carriage, which started as a trickle in 1902, when Dr. Swetnam proudly drove the very first car in Phoenix. That's him there on Washington at 2nd Avenue. And while Phoenix still had its trolley cars through the 1940s, the number of automobiles grew so explosively that the biggest problem Phoenix faced was parking.

Dr Swetnam proudly showing off the first automobile in Phoenix. You're looking east on Washington from about 2nd Avenue. That's the Ford Hotel behind him.

If you live in Phoenix, you take convenient parking for granted. Even though it's been decades since I lived in California, I am still amazed, and pleased, to find that everywhere I go in Phoenix I can find parking. If you've ever lived in Los Angeles, or San Francisco, you know what I mean. And while driving around endlessly and not being able to find a parking spot is annoying to the average driver, that situation can spell death to businesses. Sure, if a city has a dense enough population, businesses can thrive even with very poor parking. But in a city like Phoenix, having parking problems just pushes people to other places where parking isn't a problem. If you ever wondered why the mall built in the 1950s waaaayyyy north on Central was called "Park Central", well, that was part of the reason. And from that time on, malls have proudly displayed huge parking lots so that people could see, at a glance, that there was plenty of parking. And that includes the mall that is just north of me, Arrowhead.

When I worked in downtown Phoenix, in the '90s, I parked in a parking garage. The building I worked in, Bank One Center (now Chase Tower), was connected, underground, with a tunnel that allowed employees to get to the elevators in the tower without ever going outside. And so I never gave parking a second thought. And whenever I needed to go downtown, for whatever reason, I parked in the parking garage.

Nowadays, a lot of new parking garages are being built in downtown Phoenix, which makes sense to some people, and confuses others. I got used to using parking garages when I lived in Santa Barbara in the '80s. Done correctly, they fade into the background and provide what people need, parking, without making a city ugly. If you've ever visited Santa Barbara, you probably never saw them, and that's the point.


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