Vanishing
Historic Garages
on Staten Island

Survivors of the Early 1900's Automobile Age

Arrival of the "auto house"

  

Surviving historic, detached garages on residential property -- all approaching or over 100 years old -- stand as historic reminders of the advent of the "Automobile Age" and its transformative impact on Staten Island’s built environment.


Assembly-line mass production of automobiles made the vehicles increasingly affordable to the middle class:


• In 1900, there were 8,000 motor vehicles registered in the United States, with one-third of them in New York City, according to federal Department of Transportation data.


• By 1910, the number jumped to 458,377.


• In 1920, there were over 8.1 million registered vehicles nationwide.


• By 1930, the number increased to  23.1 million.


As cars were purchased, homeowners and home builders constructed detached garages to house the vehicles. 


Many garages were ordered from mail-order catalogs; Sears Roebuck and other companies did a brisk business selling pre-cut, easily assembled models. Garage blueprints were also sold for as little as five dollars.


The most common architectural styles of garages built in the early 1900s on Staten Island featured structures with gable or hipped roofs, some with overhanging eaves and exposed rafters; outward-swinging, strap-hinged and paneled wood doors, often with cross-bracing and glazing; double-hung side windows for light and ventilation; and separate doors for pedestrian entry. 


Some of the most charming old garages are one-and-a-half stories, with a window in the front “attic” gable.


Clapboard and wood shingles were the most common siding materials, although some garages were built of stone, brick, or terracotta block with cement-stucco facades.


These distinctive historic structures have been fast disappearing on Staten Island, many of them demolished as large residential zoning lots have been subdivided. Detached garages have also been lost as owners have opted to tear them down to accommodate decks, swimming pools and other recreational space in back yards.


Building of detached garages began to decline in the 1930s , when new residential construction featured garages attached to homes, with direct access to living quarters.

The Transportation Transformation

The Ford Model T

made its debut in 1908, with a price tag low enough to appeal to the U.S. mass market. With assembly-line production and innovation, the Ford Motor Company continuously reduced the price of the popular vehicle. 15 million were sold by October 1927, when the Model T was discontinued.

Growing demand for garages

With car ownership no longer a luxury for the wealthy, homeowners in developing suburbs added a detached garage to their property. New housing construction in the early decades of the 1900s often included a free-standing, one- or two-car garage as a selling point.

Architectural diversity

The detached-garage building boom continued through the 1920s and into the 1930s. Popular styles featured gable or hipped roofs; clapboard and shingle siding; wood vehicle entry doors with multiple lights, and side windows and "pedestrian" doors. National companies -- Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, and others -- did a brisk business selling pre-cut "kit" garages from mail-order catalogs.

Acknowledgment



This project was made possible in part by a 2018 DCA Art Fund Grant from nonprofit Staten Island Arts, with public funding from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.