Nobody loves a parking garage. Oh sure, we occasionally like them, particularly when we need to park or receive documents in briefcases from men with trenchcoats and shadowy pasts. But they’re rarely the stars of the architecture world. That status is reserved for the show ponies – the soaring cathedrals, the grand theaters, the characterful historic homes. Those are the sorts of buildings people hold black-tie dinners to preserve. Nobody ever hosted a silent auction and gala to save a parking garage.
But spare a thought for them. One of my favorite downtown structures is the City Park Municipal Garage. (If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you might know it as “that big parking garage next to the main library.”)
Composer Truman Fisher said: “The pause is as important as the note.” If he was talking about architecture, he might have said that the empty space is as important as the building. That’s true of the City Park Municipal Garage. Most city parking garages are solid blocks, great slabs of civic infrastructure that you either enter or go around. This one’s different. It interacts with its surroundings in a way parking garages usually don’t. Southeast Second Street runs through it, as do shafts of sunlight. In this issue’s story about the buildings and planning that made modern Fort Lauderdale, writer John Dolen describes how architect Donald Singer, when designing the parking garage, created “a sleek modernist structure with open walls and two floor-to-ceiling light wells.” It’s true. Most parking garages aren’t the kind of structures that inspire people to look up; next time you’re standing near the middle of this one, I’d recommend it.
In this issue, we speak to a few different kinds of builders and designers. In addition to the architects of interesting parking garages and other buildings, we speak to the architects of a winning hockey team. Our Florida Panthers, to be exact. The NHL playoffs start this month and the Panthers, in a refreshing break with tradition, are taking part.
Pretty much every other big South Florida sports team has, over the years, had the ability to provoke emotion in local sports fans. Not always positive emotion, mind you, but emotion.
The Panthers, on the other hand, were just sort of there – an odd, ignored afterthought on the edge of the Everglades. They were the sports-franchise equivalent of a parking garage.
Not anymore though. These Panthers are winning, and they’re winning back fans. The players are mostly young guys with a smattering of veterans, led by ageless Czech wonder Jaromir Jagr. They look loose. They have a ridiculous sweater with Kevin Spacey’s head floating in space that the player of the game gets to wear after every win. The players look like they’re having fun, the coaches look like they’re having fun, the front office people look like they’re having fun. Normally down here if you want to see this many Canadians having fun, you have to find a happy hour in Dania.
And of course, all this on-ice winning is happening because of those front-office people – the hockey lifers who spent several years building something where it was often suggested nothing could be built.
Building can be a thankless task, whether you’re building a winning team out of a loser or the sort of downtown structure that usually elicits shrugs. And once things have been built, it’s easy to enjoy them without thinking about how they got here. If you took a time machine back several decades and told people this place would have a big, thriving downtown and a successful NHL team, they’d suggest you sit down somewhere shady. But here we are, and not by accident. Successful downtowns, like successful hockey teams, don’t just happen.
Somebody built that