Construction of detached garages boomed in the first decades of the 1900s as cars grew increasingly affordable for middle-class residents of developing suburban communities. In 1908 Model T Fords cost about $850; the price dropped to $290 by the early 1920s.
Surviving detached garages -- and repurposed carriage houses of the horse-and-buggy era -- stand as historic markers of the advent of the transformative "Automobile Age" on Staten Island.
Many garages were ordered pre-cut from national companies such as Sears Roebuck, or constructed from pattern-book blueprints.
"The ever-increasing popularity of the automobile has created a more discriminating taste in the construction and design of the garage," Sears wrote in a 1921 catalog. "Whereas a few years ago protection for the machine was the only requirement, there is an insistent demand today for a building that will harmonize with the residence itself and its surroundings."
Detached garages -- described on early 1900s Sanborn Fire Insurance maps as "auto houses" -- varied in site placement, architectural style and size. Many were constructed in the rear yards of Staten Island homes, with access via a long unpaved driveway; others were built at curbside or nestled into terraces.
The typical footprint for a one-car garage was 10 or 12 feet wide by 18 feet deep.
Construction materials ranged from wood shingles or clapboard over a wood frame to rough-faced concrete block, cement stucco, or brick.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. offered 24-inch red cedar shingles or clear yellow pine or fir clapboard on some of its ready-cut models.
Gable and hipped roofs were the most common -- some featuring dormers, overhanging eaves, and exposed rafters. Other garages were constructed with shed or simply flat roofs.
Wood vehicular-entry doors with cross bracing and a row of windows added interest to the overall design.
The earliest detached garages featured outward-swinging double doors, similar to classic barn doors.
Some historic garages on Staten Island still display the original metal strap hinges on wood-paneled doors.
An early Montgomery Ward & Company mail-order catalog described the doors on its line of Wardway one- and two-car garages this way:
"As fine as can be bought, made of clear white pine, one and 3/4 inches thick, with mortise and tenon joints, just like the finest house door."
Garage design quickly evolved to include sliding track doors that "roll around the corner against the inside wall, out of the wind and out of the way," as described in a Sears, Roebuck catalog advertising pre-cut kit garages.
The overhead garage door was invented in 1921 by C.G. Johnson, founder of the Overhead Door Corporation in Indiana, promoting it as fitting "perfectly tight."
Johnson further transformed garages with his invention of the electric garage-door opener in 1926.
It is increasingly rare to find detached garages with all or most historic details intact.
Many of the surviving structures have been fully or partially renovated, with the loss of the original wood siding; wood-front doors, and side windows that provided light and ventilation.
By the 1930s, garages directly attached to newly built houses had gained favor, signaling the eventual demise of the free-standing garage. In the post-World War II building boom, attached garages ruled as a major feature of suburban residential home design.
Some early 1900s free-standing garages on Staten Island stand in dilapidated ruin, with collapsing roofs, peeling painted clapboard and distressed wood shingles.
These structures are typically vacant or used for storage, not in active use to shelter vehicles.