History of Mechanical Parking

Mechanical Parking: The New Generation

By Wayne Harding - PARKING May 1992

Wayne Harding is chairman of HARDING-AFG, INC., in Denver, CO. He has been a manufacturer/installer of mechanical parking devices since 1968. He has been a consultant to private companies and government entities on the proper use of mechanical parking.

"All Progress begins with an idea." From "idea" to "progress" takes time and timing, filling a need and management commitment. Does the Mechanical parking industry have these ingredients? Can it move from "idea" to "progress?" Has it already? Will it take the new generation of parking machines to effect the move?

This article gives the facts. You make the call.


The Past

In 1925, Max Miller, New York City, invented the first U.S. auto mechanical parking device (fig.1). Its purpose was to elevate vehicles, such as automobiles, from the highway to leave the roadway unobstructed. There is no record of its use.

Figure 1

Sixteen years later, Automobiles were crowding cities, and the first genuine attempt to go "vertical" with car storage was made. O.A. Light filled a patent to stack three cars, one above the other (fig.2). One unit could have three cars per side for a total of six, or two cars per side for a total of four.

Figure 2

A year later, April, 1942, E.W. Austin was granted a patent on a design submitted in 1939 for an automated garage (fig.3). This became the forerunner of the automated garages of the '50s and '60s; the Bowsers, the Pigeon Holes and the Roto Parks.

He remained active in vertical parking devices. He submitted a new design for his three-car unit in February, 1945, and was granted a patent in December 1948. It's interesting to note it took only three months for his first patent to be granted and nearly four years for his second.

Figure 3

As the number of cars increased, so did the number of ideas for parking them. The most glamorous of the new schemes were automated garages. An early try was Charles A. Bertel's patent in 1955 "for storing and handling containers" (fig.4), which shows a car, not a container. Perhaps he changed his design when he realized parking cars could be profitable.

Figure 4

Eric Jaulmes, with his 1964 invention (patented 1967), was typical of the "new craze" in automated parking (fig.5). The Bowser and Pigeon Hole systems were similar to Jaulmes' patent and could have been derivatives or licensees. Even the Otis Roto Park, (fig.6) had some of the same principles.

Basically, in these automated garages, a parking attendant drove the car onto an elevator, then operated the elevator through vertical and horizontal planes until he reached a predetermined slot (parking stall). When the elevator stopped, either the valet drove the car from the elevator into the parking stall, or a car pallet automatically moved the car onto the garage floor. Returning elevators sometimes stopped to "bring a car down."

Sophistications of the Bowser, Pigeon Hole and Roto Park systems included:

  • Multi-bank elevators to speed the in-and-out process.
  • A pallet design that eliminated the valet parking. The customer would drive onto a multi-slotted pallet. A "Finger Lift" could go through the slots, lift the car and deposit it onto the elevator. When the elevator reached the parking stall, several stories high, the finger lift would automatically deposit the car into the stall or retrieve it.
  • Further designs of pallets and finger lifts that produced tandem parking in most of the elevated stalls.

There were two main objections to automatic garages:

  • Dependence upon one elevator to service a group of multilevel car stalls, which, in the case of elevator failure, made it impossible to retrieve cars. Regardless of the high-tech improvements of these Bowser/Pigeon Hole/Roto Park systems, this dependence upon one elevator killed potential sales.
  • Retrieval time during rush hours. Mechanical garages were cumbersome and inefficient when several customers wanted cars at the same time. The old parking rule of never keeping a customer waiting more than five minutes was constantly violated.

Figure 5
Figure 6

The automated garage era was a designer/promoter's dream. Unfortunately for the mechanical parking industry, it was also a major roadblock to progress. A few unfortunate experiences of inoperative and un-repairable elevators stigmatized mechanical parking. It was practically impossible to get professional parking people to listen to new ideas on mechanical parking.

Yet, the thought of having a multi-story garage serviced automatically by few attendants and located in the heart of a big city is what gave birth to a dream that exists today.

This dream reminds me of my test-pilot days following World War II. Our dream was to break the sound barrier. Chuck Yeager did it. But many qualified pilots were right behind him "pushing." That is why I believe the automatic garage "will happen."

Qualified people are "pushing" to make it happen. We have now gone through a 25-year learning curve of making, installing and using mechanical parking devices SUCCESSFULLY -- about 7,000 units in this country and more than 25,000 world-wide.

They are not multi-story mechanical garages, but they are mechanical parking devices that function well and satisfy. For these reasons, the mechanical garage is included in our new generation and will be discussed later.

In mid 1960, Bob Lichti of California designed the Vert-A-park. A ferris wheel-type parking machine that rose more than 90 feet into the air and parked 22 cars in the space normally occupied by 2-1/2 cars (fig.7). The Japanese have produced and used similar units.

In 1968, when the Vert-A-Park made its debut, IHI Industries of Japan had installed more than 200 such machines. Owning the foreign patent rights to the Vert-A-Park, I went to Japan and visited parking machine installations, including IHI ferris wheel units.

The difference between previous versions of the ferris wheel machine and Lichti's was the chain and drive. While others used a tension chain and a motor-mechanical drive, Lichti had a compression chain and a Sundstrand fluid drive. Lichti's Vert-A-Park could stand alone and comply with building codes. Other models needed a surrounding structural frame for stability.

Figure 7

A 10-car prototype (fig.8) of Lichti's 22-car unit was built in Denver. Geoffrey Francis attempted a scaled-down model (fig.9) of Lichti's design. A prototype of the Francis model was never built.

A modified ferris wheel mechanical parking unit is included in our new generation of mechanical parking. Because of its maximum utilization of land and rapid car retrieval and parking, I believe the ferris wheel-type unit will find its market in the next 20 years.

Figure 8
Figure 9

The Industry

As the mechanical parking industry evolved, it gained credibility during the late '60s through the '80s. Hampering its evolution had been the rapid reputation and failure of the mechanical garage era. Based on past performance, parking professionals insisted on trouble-free durable machines that had been proved by time and usage. As they received this assurance, the industry began to take shape.

Today, the industry has expanded its sales, installations and service into the single-family residence market. If successful here, mechanical parking will become a greater and more vibrant part of our industry.

The mechanical parking industry overcame its automated garage failures by producing, selling, installing and servicing three different models of two-car vertical parking units. The first was designed by Fisher, Whitley, and Biddle (fig.10); the second by the Herbst brothers (fig.11); and the third by Ed Greer (fig.12 -- prototype in Denver).

Estimated sales of these three models between the late '60s and mid '80s were:

  • Fisher unit, called "Space-O-Matic" -- 1,000
  • Herbst, the "Park Master" -- 750
  • Greer, The "DuoPark" -- 3,500

Figure 10
Figure 11
Figure 12

The DuoPark is the only one of these original pioneer units in production today. An early '70 DuoPark was installed on a PMI lot in Washington, DC (fig.13). Later, off shoots of one or more of these machines appeared.

Figure 13

Other designs were introduced, too. One was the "Astrolift," invented by Dr. Katz, which used a ball screw to elevate the top car. A way to level the pan on the Fisher unit during elevation/decent was devised (fig.14). A generic, unpatented four-post unit, commonly used for auto service, was adapted for commercial, industrial and residential parking.

A version of this four-post unit was made into a machine that parked three cars, one on the ground and two above. Although this three-car "pancake" concept was introduced by O.A. Light (fig.2) in 1941, William Gooch and William Van Stokes patented the first working unit in 1987.

Figure 14

In the late '70s, and Italian inventor designed the "Lift Box" (fig.15), a cantilever parking machine that has worldwide sales of 15,000 and domestic sales in the hundreds. This inventor also designed the "B-Box" (fig.16), which allowed vertical parking under low ceilings.

Figure 15
Figure 16

A glimpse of the "new generation" was seen in the '80s, when Italian inventor Angelo Fusaro introduced several parking machine models. In 1991, machines similar to Fusaro's were sold in Canada. Germans Kasper Klause and Ottor Woehr hold two of the patents.

The introduction of these new mechanical parking devices coupled with the durability of the Fisher Herbst and especially the Greer (DuoPark) two-car units during the '70s and '80s propelled the mechanical parking industry into the new generation.

Before leaving the "old" and focusing on the "new," I want to recognize several parking professionals, most of whom are NPA members. The men listed below gave us a chance to "start over," to make amends for the mechanical garage era. By risking their reputations and possibly financial loss to give us a "second" chance, they helped the mechanical parking industry gain momentum.

We upstarts, who did not know the parking industry, gave clumsy sales presentations. As parking pros, they knew better than we did about what our products should do: "find a better, more efficient way" to park cars.

I will always be indebted to these pioneers, recalled through random reminiscing: Jack Lyon, Ron Williams, Irwin Edlavitch, Ted Sylvan, Dan Katz, Louis Meyers, Mickey Meyers, Harold Gottesman, Jerry Gottesman, Dan Stark, Bruce Miller, Lowell Harwood, Elliot Brownstein, Marshall McMurray, Bud Doggett, Bob Edenbaum, Killian Huger, R.F. Vanderwall, Claud Hallmark, Jim Holloran, David Chesrow, Tony Frate, Jay Layden, Bob Mackey and Bill Maloof.