ALL OVER THE MAP
Bizarre structure in Kent is forgotten futuristic parking prototype
An unusual structure in Kent built more than 40 years ago may be a one-of-a-kind prototype for a futuristic automated parking garage.
The structure is located in Kent, on a piece of industrial property just off East Valley Highway on the south side of S 266th Street. Many details of the structure’s origin are still a little sketchy, though it appears to be a squat, cylinder-shaped concrete structure that’s likely one of the most futuristic-looking buildings in King County – perhaps right up there with the Space Needle (though nowhere near as tall or as visible).
Phone calls by KIRO Newsradio to the property owner – Magnum Venus Products – have not yet been returned, but the building is believed to no longer be in use as a parking facility. It was apparently built in 1979 or 1980 as a prototype for an automated parking garage – which maximizes storage space on a limited footprint and minimizes the human factor in parking cars. By using an elevator rather than ramps, the square footage required is significantly reduced compared with a more traditional parking garage.
“This structure is really unusual,” said Todd Scott, historic preservation architect, and planner for King County and for a number of suburban cities the King County Historic Preservation Program serves.
Scott says he first noticed the structure more than a decade ago when he was surveying properties in Kent in search of pre-World War II buildings. Scott says he made a mental note about the building all those years ago and recently received an inquiry about its history before reaching out to KIRO Newsradio.
Earlier this week, Scott told KIRO Newsradio how the automated parking structure likely would work.
“Cars could drive into the circular core underneath, and they would be raised up to the larger circular floor on the second floor and put into spaces that radiated around that central core,” Scott explained. “It was almost like a vending machine for cars. I mean, we’ve seen those in modern ads today, you know, where you go buy a car, and the vending machine pops it out for you.”
“But this was a little bit different in that it was a vending machine for you parking your car,” Scott said.
With some critical research assistance from Lee Corbin, KIRO Newsradio identified a few more additional facts about the Kent structure.
The design was patented in May 1981 by Frank E. Ives of Kent and Albert C. Saurwein of Seattle; the few newspaper clips available also credit inspiration for the design to a Southern California builder named John Crain.
The Kent prototype has just one level of vehicle storage, holding a maximum of 10 cars. An artist’s conception of a full-sized structure that appeared in numerous newspaper articles included a total of 20 levels holding 200 cars.
Those same newspaper articles from 1980 report that the official name for the structures was Park-N-Space, and that they were marketed by a company called Automated Parking Systems of Kent, Wash., with additional offices in Pasadena, Calif. The articles also report that the company claimed their structures required five times less space than a conventional garage and 15 times less space than a parking lot (to store an equivalent number of cars).
The mechanism, say the articles, was computer controlled and included a simple elevator system (mounted on the roof or uppermost level) to move the cars between floors. Also included was a fairly complex means of adjusting the fit of the lift mechanism to each individual vehicle so that the lift only came into contact with the tires of each vehicle – which apparently reduced the risk of damage to paint or to sheet metal – so that each vehicle could be placed (and then later removed) from a parking spot.
The estimated cost of the 20-story tower in 1980, not counting real estate or site-specific prep, was reportedly $1.5 million (or roughly $5.7 million in 2023).
Todd Scott says King County Landmarks is gathering information about the structure and has no plans to take any action or to seek to have the building designated as a City of Kent Landmark.
Meanwhile, Michael Houser, state architectural historian for the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, has no doubt the Park-N-Space would meet landmark designation requirements.
“It’s absolutely eligible,” Houser told KIRO Newsradio.
It appears that no full-sized Park-N-Space was ever built, but this cannot yet be confirmed. If you know more about the structure in Kent, please reach out to Feliks Banel via the contact information below.
You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.