On a visit to Chicago in the summer of 2001 I remarked to an architect friend that I’ve never seen a good-looking parking garage. It seemed like it was impossible to design one. I’ve been hassling with Best Buy all year about an exchange I want to make, and their Flushing store is on the third floor of a parking garage on the end of a side street. Pedestrian traffic doesn’t enter the equation: everyone patronizing the various retail outlets in the building is expected to drive there and park on the first and second floors; the retail is on the third. And it’s the most utilitarian, ugliest thing you’ve ever seen.
Back in the early 20th Century, though, you could indeed design decent-looking parking garages as the Red Ball Garage at 140 East 31st Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenues proves. It’s red brick with plenty of windows with 6-over-6 windowpanes. The decades-old neon sign shines red. The garage has been here since at least 1940 as this Municipal Archives index proves.
The Red Ball also figures in recent informal road racing lore. It is the starting point for the real-life Cannonball Run, a coast to coast race from Manhattan to Redondo Beach, California, inspired by the 1981 Burt Reynolds movie, which itself was based on a real-life race that took place in 1979.
The most recent Cannonball Run took place in April 2020, at a time when traffic nationwide was drastically reduced due to the Covid crisis. The winning team averaged 100 MPH traveling the 3000+ miles in 26 hours, 38 minutes. Participating teams employ lookouts so they can avoid traffic jams and radar detection, many using illegal radar jammers.