The horse-crowded streets of New York City in the 1880s ran with 4 million pounds of manure and 40,000 gallons of urine every day. The car rescued us from the flood. Even as Americans used the vehicles to flee to newly viable suburbs, we continued to honor our chrome gods with temples in the cities that they saved from fecal oblivion.
“House of Cars: Innovation and the Parking Garage” (October 17, 2009–July 11, 2010) at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., collects images, models, and films of these holy places. Once cars were weak. They needed shelter with walls, heat, and minions to tend them. But then the vehicles grew stronger, facing the elements in open-sided concrete garages with only their owners to whisk them up ramps or onto lifts. Lektropark, Park-o-Mat, File-A-Way, and Circ-L-Park became part of the American landscape as human civic ingenuity found ways to manage the inconvenience of moving about in a valuable, space-consuming machine.
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