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Parking Lot Series: Pigeon Hole Parking for Automobiles

  • Pigeon Hole Parking automated parking
  • Pigeon Hole Parking at Southwest Stark and Park Streets in Portland, Oregon.

Not long after the automobile became an accepted part of the transportation picture in cities there was a problem with finding places to park all of the vehicles. The first solution was the parking lot that was soon followed by the construction of parking garages. In 1932, a vertical parking garage came into use in Chicago with space to park many cars on a small footprint.

With increased post-war traffic clogging city streets, brothers Leo and Vaughn Sanders of Spokane, Washington, invented and patented a system that came to be known as “Pigeon Hole Parking.” With this system, over one-hundred cars could be parked in a lot only fifty-feet wide by placing them in boxes stacked vertically. The first use of this system is reported to be the facility in the lead image erected in Spokane in 1950.

The first of four main “Parking Elevator” patents filed in 1949, was granted to the Sanders Brothers in 1953; a patent drawing showing the first system can is visible at the bottom of this post. With less square footage of real estate needed to house a large number of cars, the system was soon put in place in a number of spots around the country. In addition to the parking fees charged at these new facilities, further income for some of the operators was realized by selling gasoline, oil and other automotive services.

The Sanders’ eventually sold sixty of the parking systems in the United States, Canada, and Venezuela; a small number of them appear to remain in operation today. One of the main drawbacks of this type of arrangement occurs if electrical or mechanical problems develop with the traveling bridge or elevator that services the system. A breakdown leaves all of the cars parked above ground stranded until repairs can be made, or electrical power can be restored.

More information can be found here covering Pigeon Hole ParkingPhotos courtesy of Vintage Portland, the Los Angeles Public Library and the McGovern Historical Collections.

  • Pigeon Hole Parking automated parking
  • The 1953 opening of a facility at Wilshire Boulevard and South Flower Street in Los Angeles, California above and below 
  • Pigeon Hole Parking automated parking
  • Pigeon Hole Parking automated parking
  • The bridge and elevator at the top floor of a facility – Below a 1953 Sander’s patent drawing.

Pigeon Hole Parking automated parking

19 responses to “Parking Lot Series: Pigeon Hole Parking for Automobiles

  1. I recall that there was one of these on S. 5th St., in Steubenville, Ohio in the late 1950s. It was still in operation in the early 1970s.

  2. In the lead photograph, parked in the lower right corner is a 1949 BUICK Super and what looks like a 1949 STUDEBAKER Commander Starlight Coupé.

  3. It’s amazing how long it took for hydraulics to come into play. Even post-war, cable lift was still the best way to raise a heavy load, like dozers and shovels. Wonder how stable this structure was with a Buick and stiff wind.

  4. Here in Japan, a land of limited land (sic), there are a number of innovative parking solutions to be found, even for apartment complexes.

  5. There were five of these in Montréal, the last one in service till 2000! A sight to behold when the service man would jumps on the ongoing personnel ladder type elevator to get your car!

  6. I can recall being fascinated as a boy watching a similar parking system pick up our ’52 Ford and put it into a parking slot in a multi-story parking garage in downtown Dallas. I wasn’t a Pigeon Hole system since there was only one attendant who operated the car lift and he didn’t have to crank the car and drive it into the slot. It was like a fork lift on rails that reached under the car, picked it up, raised it to a parking slot then extended the car supporting beams, lowered the car in the parking slot and extracted the beams. Or at least I think that’s the way I remember it working.

    The only similar system I could find that’s sold today is a German system made by WÖHR Auto-Parksysteme. I wonder who made the system we had in Dallas in the ’50s? It wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as the German system but as I remember it worked a bit like it.

  7. In the first photo, the fifth car from the end on the top row is a one-year-only ’49 Lincoln Cosmopolitan town sedan fastback.
    One can imagine an electrical or mechanical failure would make this system suddenly a much less good idea. To say nothing of the irate car owners!

    • Same system was sold in dwntwn Tampa. FL at abt the same time sorta diagonal frm the rear of Maas Bros- the leading deprtment store then… can imagine the owners of any of the cars being more than a little displeased…looks like a high percentage of the patrons were “heavy hitters”! the profit /loss ratio must’ve been interesting.

  8. Do remember Pigeon Hole Parking in Downtown Portland Oregon》living there 1935 to 1955
    Left because Betty and I married and moved to Spokane Wa.

  9. Like anything else, proper Attendants and keeping Customers away from their own cars (for obvious reasons, plus responsible Maintenance & reliable Emergency Standby Power Generating equipment , make this concept viable.

  10. I remember this parking structure well as my friend had a lowered 47 Studebaker Commander convertible and when they tried to slide the pickup mechanism under the car it hung up and they had a heck of a time getting it out. It did damage the front suspension though not the mechanism. I don’t know when they tore it down but the lot itself is still there as a parking lot.

  11. Hi guys,

    A new fully digital mechanical robotic system has been installed in West Hollwood in recent years. I believe it is on Sunset Blvd. It got a lot of TV news coverage when it opened. No runners or valets, no car operating staff except maintenance and management. Fully automatic with simple ticket retrieval (automated valet). You drive up to ATM-like terminal then garage door opened, driver drives car in, gets out, returns on foot to terminal to complete transaction by getting ticket stub. Car was whisked away on a mobile tray to a parking stall and garage door closed behind it. It was enthusiastically received by the public at time of introduction. I would have to say all these systems are very inefficient from a power consumption viewpoint and I think all must have standby backup power to be reliable enough to own and operate. All probably take a bit more time for the driver on retrieval than simply walking to the car on a flat lot. But could be quite a bit quicker and safer than a multi-level self park parking structure or underground self serve lot. Most shopping centers and major evebt centers have a big problem on their hands with public access parking lots. Drivers with today’s large pickups and SUVs have problems with their oversize vehicles in many parking lots of all types even the simplest.

    It is really interesting to see these old photos. I have seen a few motorcycle dealers using modern clear window circular towers out front to create an attraction for their inventory. Apparently, this is also being done at some high end car dealers too. A little weird since they are not practical walk around show rooms for most customers or sales staff.

  12. When I was a kid in the ’60s there was one on Main St in Hartford CT, across from G.Fox&Sons. I remember it as about 8 levels high, but it was probably 6 like the ones pictured here. I still marvel at the scale and power, shuffling 4-5000 pounds around like that. I’m probably recalling my childhood impression, but that’s good; a nice memory.

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