This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

How parking lots changed from beautiful to ugly in Phoenix, Arizona


Parking lots are ugly, and they've been ugly all of my life. It's as if there's nothing that anyone can imagine that's uglier than a parking lot. When I was a kid, there were song lyrics that said, "They paved paradise, and put in a parking lot". And the message was clear: parking lots are ugly. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Even the most perfectly paved and striped parking lot, brand new, is instantly ugly. And now I'm trying to imagine a time when parking lots weren't ugly. It certainly was before my day, I'm stretching my imagination here. So let's try to imagine beautiful parking lots. Time-travel with me.

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In order to see parking lots as beautiful, I suppose you have to see them when their function was brand-new, not long after cars were invented, and Phoenix became crowded with them. Before parking lots, the best you could do would be to hope to find a place to park your car along the edge of a street. And I can't imagine that people in old-time Phoenix were any happier having to drive around looking for a parking spot, and then having to walk a good distance to the building, than they are now.

Park Central Mall in the 1960s, Central Avenue and Earll, Phoenix, Arizona.

I try to imagine what the parking lot at Park Central must have looked like to people when it was new. To me, it's just a parking lot. The classic cars are interesting, of course, but I just can't wrap my head around seeing the parking lot as anything but an eyesore. But they must have been beautiful.

The parking lot at Uptown Plaza in 1955, Camelback Road and Central, Phoenix, Arizona.

I've been a passenger in cars when a parking spot can't be found, and it's not pleasant. Driving back and forth, looking for an empty spot on the street can be infuriating. And so seeing a big empty parking lot at places like Uptown Plaza must have been a thing of beauty.

But that beauty must have faded very quickly. In a longish life I've never met anyone who considers parking lots to be beautiful. I know engineers, and city workers, who can appreciate an excellent job, but I really don't imagine that they'll be hanging up posters of a parking lot anytime soon, the way you see with buildings, and bridges, and other works of engineering, and construction.

Yeah, parking lots are ugly. Way too much of my life has been in parking lots, and I imagine that in the future they will go away as we come up with better ways to transport ourselves, and our things. And those gigantic spaces will become a place that can be repurposed, maybe into gardens, or parks. And parking lots can become beautiful again.