WASHINGTON — Postwar America was full of innovation, and one of those innovations, aimed at making urban parking easier, opened to the public in D.C. this week in 1951.
The Park-O-Mat, on K Street Northwest between 14th and 15th streets, was the nation’s first fully-automated parking garage.
A driver would simply pull into the garage, leave the car in neutral and get a ticket from the lone attendant on duty, who never entered the driver’s car. With the push of a button, one of two elevators would then whisk the car to the nearest open space on one of the 17 floors above, and using a “vehicle parking apparatus,” the Park-O-Mat would then park the car.
When the driver returned, one of the elevators would retrieve his car and return it to the ground floor, in less than one minute.
The garage itself took up a tiny footprint, at just 25-feet-wide and 40-feet-deep.
The Park-O-Mat didn’t last long.
According to Greater Greater Washington, property values in downtown D.C. eventually made it impractical to keep using the real estate strictly for parking.
A glass office tower at 1424 K St. NW now occupies the Park-O-Mat’s previous home.
Automated parking garages still exist. The Camden Grand Park, an apartment building at 910 15th St. NW has automated valet parking. There are several robotic parking garages in New York City.
Robotic parking may still be rare, but parking garages are not.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, public parking garages across the country generate about $7.5 billion in annual revenue.
See a 1951 British Pathe’ newsreel video of D.C.’s Park-O-Mat.