Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California.

The really, really terrible parking problems of old-time Phoenix

I collect old photos of Phoenix, and post them on a Facebook page, and it often comes as a surprise when people see how awful the parking was back in old-time Phoenix.

Maybe it's because when we look back with nostalgia at the "old days" we usually see advertising that shows someone driving along with no traffic, or in a movie the hero always parks his car right in front of the building. I lived in California, and for my friends that know what really, really terrible parking is like, we just laugh. If you've never driven around for blocks and blocks, desperately looking for a parking spot, it can be hard to imagine. And it started in Phoenix just about right after cars were invented.

If you didn't drive before the 1950s in Phoenix (and very few people who are reading this did), you would have no idea how really, really bad the parking situation was in downtown Phoenix. Attempts were made to alleviate the problem, including the Luhrs Parking garage (which is still there, and still gets plenty of use, on Madison and 1st Avenue), but by the 1960s people of Phoenix were fed up, and instead of going downtown, they went to places that had plenty of free and convenient parking, including Uptown Plaza, Park Central, and Christown.

I have a brother who lives in the San Francisco area, and every time he visits me in Phoenix he is always talking about the great parking. We'll sit at a restaurant and he'll look out the window and say "Wow, I can see my car from here!" He has told me stories of attempts to go to parties, that he never got to go to, in spite of his dropping of his wife, and driving around for a while, and then having her drive around for a while, and then finally having to go home. Speaking for myself, when I lived in an apartment in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, I had one (1) parking spot, and if a car was parked in it, I had to drive around the neighborhood, for quite a while, and walk back to my apartment, for several blocks. Not having good parking sucks.

So downtown Phoenix has been keeping an eye on convenient parking. Nowadays I see a lot of parking garages in downtown Phoenix, and I've never had a problem finding a parking meter (which uses debit cards, which I think is way cool). Of course the Light Rail is the best option for most people, and it means that the parking lots can be spread out over the valley (Park and Rides) and cars don't have to jam into downtown.

Phoenix solved its parking problems so well, and so long ago, that most people have no idea how bad it was. I've often ridden along with people who grew up in Phoenix, and in parking lots where there are a dozen empty spots I hear "There's nowhere to park!" (which means there isn't a parking spot right up by the door). When I hear this I know that they never had to deal with really, really bad parking. Must be nice.

I like Phoenix, it's hot in the summer, but you can find a parking spot!

Image at the top of this post: a double-parked car in the 1930s on Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix, next to a sign that says, "Double Parking Not Permitted".

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