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Four garages, large and small, added to National Register of Historic Places

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Images via Google Street View.

A curmudgeon’s repair shop. A block-wide maintenance garage for intercity buses that became an FBI crime lab. A small neighborhood gas station. A radiator man’s small complex servicing Route 66 travelers. Rural and urban, abandoned and under renovation, four early-20th-century garages from across the country made the National Register of Historic Places this month, all for their own distinctive reasons.

While the register includes a wide variety of buildings, monuments, entire districts, and even shipwrecks, garages on the list tend to be either large-scale metropolitan parking garages or the birthplaces of some non-automotive innovation. Not often does it turn its spotlight on the smaller mom-n-pop garages that sprang up along and near highways as the automobile became the preferred mode of transportation. As Edson Beall of the National Park Service noted, that’s likely due to the fact that many smaller garages that conduct largely unheralded work (and which usually sit on land of increasing value to developers) tend not to retain much of their original integrity over the years.

“That’s why they’re significant – because they’re still around,” Beall said, noting that the addition of four to the register at once is more of a coincidence than anything. “They’re usually submitted for their architectural value, sometimes for their association with a historical event like the advent of the automobile.”

That unheralded work makes researching the buildings a rather terse affair. The register application for one of the four, the former Burgherr’s Service Station, located on Utah Street in St. Louis’ Benton Park, notes the date of construction, original owner, and architect (1937, Harry F. Sieving, and Saum Architects), and goes on to note the garage’s advantageous location on a street devoid of streetcar tracks, as well as the enameled steel-walled modernist style in which Saum designed the garage. However, the history includes little to nothing about who worked at the garage, what work went on there, or what kept it in business until it was vacated in 1997. The garage is currently undergoing renovations to transform it into a restaurant serving grass-fed hamburgers and GMO-free food options. (Sadly, the name of the restaurant will be its address–1956 Utah–rather than the wholly appropriate Burgherr’s Burgers.)

Similarly, only vague reference to the people who worked the garage and former Texaco gas station at 3060 St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans exists. Built in 1949 for Texaco following a prototype designed for the company by Walter Dorwin Teague, the garage saw a number of operators – originally Arthur Leibe – but remained under Texaco ownership until 1978 and Texaco affiliation until 1993. A Yelp review notes that the “friendly old curmudgeon” who ran Danny’s Service Center – as it was last known – offered tall tales along with easily obtained inspection stickers. It apparently closed sometime early this decade and from the Google Street View appears under renovation.

Another small garage in Grants, New Mexico, has a more complete history thanks to interviews with the family of the builder and longtime operator. Charley (sometimes spelled Charlie) Diaz built the garage himself out of pumice blocks in 1943 along Santa Fe AvenueGrants’ section of Route 66–amid a burgeoning strip of hotels, shops, and gas stations. According to the register application for the garage, Diaz later decided to specialize in two automobile components vital to New Mexico travelers–radiators and, eventually, air-conditioning systems–and, in 1949, added a small cafe for his great uncle to run. After Diaz’ death in 1995, the garage and many of the tools Diaz used, dating back to when it opened, remained in place.

While not a mom-n-pop, the garages at 2106 California Street and 2101 Welton Street in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood still have plenty of historical value between them. Constructed, respectively, in 1925 and 1947, the garages served the Denver-Colorado Springs-Pueblo Motorway, a subsidiary of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad created to run bus service throughout Colorado. Large enough to service, wash, and park several intercity buses, the garages remained in operation until 1961, shortly after Continental Trailways bought the bus line. According to the register application for the two buildings, they remained on the market until 1967, when a holding company bought them and traded them to the U.S. government in exchange for property in Arapahoe County. From 2005 to 2010, the FBI used the Welton Street garage as “a drive-in/drive-out crime laboratory” and according to a spokesperson from the U.S. General Services Administration, the garages currently serve as parking spaces for government fleet vehicles. No plans are in place to sell or develop the two garages.

Created in 1966, the National Register of Historic Places recognizes “districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture.” A register listing makes that property eligible for tax breaks and historic preservation grants, but does not necessarily prevent the owner of that property from altering, selling, or even demolishing the property.

For more recent additions to the National Register of Historic Places, visit