There’s an alternate universe in which Dallas doesn’t exist. I mean, Dallas still technically has a physical presence and it shows up on maps and stuff, but it doesn’t exist in the way that people normally think of cities as existing, with people living, working and recreating. All of that stuff— and all the houses and office towers and concert venues and shopping malls — is gone. In its place is one big parking lot.
How did this come to pass? Well, as the region’s population increased, and as that population became ever more dependent on the automobile, the demand for parking skyrocketed. Before long, the parking lots had crowded out every other use. Dallas became a place that commuters from the suburbs poured into in the morning to park so they could hop on shuttles ferrying them to jobs in the suburbs.
Dallas was spared this fate by a technology as revolutionary as it is simple: The parking garage. Rather than parking lots out side by side in an endless sheet, why not stack them one on top of the other? The elegant simplicity of this idea has transformed Dallas' landscape over the half-century. Instead of covering literally everything, parking now takes up only what seems like half of Dallas' land area, leaving the other half to be developed into buildings that give people a reason to park.
But while all parking garages serve a vital purpose, not all are created equal. As with any form of architecture, the parking garage can be inspired or derivative, a work of art or a hot mess. Again, this isn't to say that the less-inspired parking garages aren't great in their own way; They're still a far more awesome feat of engineering than the horizontal surface lot. It’s merely to say that some do contribute more than others to Dallas' history and spirit. With that in mind, we pay homage to the 10 parking garages we've determined to be Dallas' best.
10. 24 Hour Fitness Garage, Downtown The renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs forcefully extolled the virtues of mixed-use development in The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961, but developers, particularly in the car-crazed Southwest, were slow to embrace her ideas. The planners of the parking garage on the southeast corner of Harwood and San Jacinto streets downtown pioneered mixed-use development downtown less than two decades after Jacobs released her tome. The ground floor of their structure (that is to say, the hundred-yard edge along Harwood that's not parking) is devoted to the culinary arts. Garage patrons can sample local delicacies such as Quizno’s sandwiches and Dickey’s barbecue, all while shielded from the prying eyes of pedestrians as well as sunlight thanks to the deep setbacks from the sidewalk. But this building holds much more than just ground-level parking and food. It also has elevated parking, which takes up floors 2-4. Floors 5-8 are also completely devoted to parking. Then, on the 9th floor, is a big reveal: a 24 Hour Fitness, i.e., the perfect place to exercise off a brisket sandwich and tankard of sweet tea.
9. Love Field Airport Garage A, Northwest Dallas Thanksgiving a year ago was a nightmare at Love Field. Unshackled from the Wright Amendment the month earlier, passenger volume surged beyond expectations, overwhelming the airport's parking facility. Holiday travelers found themselves circling endlessly around the facility in search of an empty space. Eventually, when a new 5,000-space, $131 million parking garage opens in 2018, Love Field will become a parking mecca, but city officials didn't wait three years to kick up Love Field's parking game. In addition to providing a shuttle to an off-site lot, the airport has retrofitted Garages A and B into two of the most technologically sophisticated around. There are now 10 electronic signs strategically positioned throughout the airport grounds giving travelers up-to-the-second information on the number of available parking spaces in each garage. It’s like Twitter for parking.
8. The Shops at Park Lane, North Dallas The developers behind the garage at San Jacinto and Harwood streets may have pioneered the bold combination of parking with other uses, but it was only with the opening of the Shops at Park Lane in 2009 that the concept reached its apotheosis in Dallas. Rather than limit themselves to a gym and a few restaurants, the developers created from whole cloth an entire, self-sufficient civilization. One can obtain shelter in the luxury condo tower, food at the Whole Foods Market, clothing from retailers like Nordstrom Rack, education at the Art Institute of Dallas, employment in the development's office space, all without crossing a city street. There's even bowling. Wrapping around all of this like a snug, concrete cocoon is a ring of parking garages, the most impressive of which back up to the Park Lane DART station.
7. Victory North Parking Garage, Victory Park
When historians go back and try to identify the inflection point where Victory Park transformed from depopulated disaster of municipal planning and investment into a thriving urban neighborhood, they will almost certainly zero in on 2012. That's when the city, rather than admit defeat and cut its losses at a couple of hundred million dollars, boldly plowed $34.8 million in future tax revenue into the Victory North Parking Garage. Facing the west side of the American Airlines Center, the garage has consolidated much of the surface parking that previously choked off most human activity onto a modest footprint, thus freeing up other pieces of real estate for new development. The formerly moribund neighborhood is now in the midst of an apartment boom, a Tom Thumb is slated to go in nearby, and the Hard Rock Cafe just seems to rock harder with every passing year. If Victory Park's chorus of naysayers are still attacking Victory as an urban-planning failure, at least you can't hear them over the construction noise.
6. Arboretum Parking Garage, East Dallas The Dallas Arboretum is in a tricky spot. On the one hand, the shores of White Rock Lake provide the ideal setting for a world-class botanical garden. On the other hand, the lake is constantly thronged with people. Resolving this dilemma has taken meticulous planning. Note, for example, how the Arboretum's entrance faces away from the lake and toward Garland Road. Note also how the Arboretum has correctly resisted calls to link its entrance to White Rock's popular running trail with a quarter mile of sidewalk and instead bought a piece of property on the other side of Garland Road, bored a tunnel underneath and built a $30 million garage. Strategy aside, the garage is an architectural gem, its sandstone facade and wisps of metalwork capturing the soul of Dallas' native blackland prairie. It might just be the handsomest parking structure in the city.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
5. Hall Arts Parking Garage, Arts District
Before there was a Dallas Arts District, there was the Hall Arts Parking garage. Built in 1986, two years after the debut of the Dallas Museum of Art but while the Sasaki masterplan for the area was still little more than a twinkle in Dallas' eye, it doesn't look like much, just a driveway peeling off Ross Avenue and disappearing underground. But it opened the formerly neglected corner of downtown to a whole new class of parkers. Just think of the thousands upon thousands of symphony aficionados, opera buffs and visual-art enthusiasts whose cars valets have parked in this unassuming space. And then you have to wonder: Would the Arts District even be possible without this parking foundation? Highly doubtful.
4. The Richards Group, Uptown If there's one thing the work culture of Silicon Valley has taught us, it's that creative types need creative parking spaces. Kudos to The Richards Group for incorporating this lesson at its new headquarters. For years, the ad agency occupied an office tower at Central Expressway and Northwest Highway that offered the standard parking fare in the form of a six-story garage. When Stan Richards decided to move his firm closer to the urban core and picked a plot of land adjacent to the west entrance to the CityPlace DART station, he knew he would need a new parking paradigm. And so, rather than do the 20th century thing and dig underground or build a standalone garage, the company incorporated the parking into the building itself. You can't tell from the seamless glass facade, but the entire bottom half of the building is parking, with the office space stacked on top. To a layperson, this might seem like folly. Wouldn't all the exhaust from the garage below waft into The Richards Group's offices, depriving employees of oxygen and thus damaging the creative process? Clearly, judging by the continued freshness of the firm's “EAT MOR CHIKIN” ad campaign for Chick-fil-a, this hasn't happened.
3. Preston Center Parking Garage, North Dallas Preston Center proves that parking garages don't have to be 10 stories to be amazing. Take the one at Preston Center. Though it rises just two stories, it does so with a purposeful elegance that captures better than any other piece of architecture the spirit of Dallas circa 1955. Built to serve the ritzy shopping center sandwiched between Dallas and University Park, its clean angles, unadorned concrete facade, and muted, almost nonexistent lighting, to say nothing of the intricate system of ingress and egress that keeps vehicles moving in a breathtaking automotive ballet, make it a striking piece of midcentury modern parking-garage design. That it has managed to be preserved for 60 years in go-go Dallas, a city that always seems to be chasing the bigger, newer, shinier thing, is little short of a miracle, though the miracle may not last for long. Developers are eyeing the property for a hotel and luxury apartments.
2. Binkley Parking Garage, SMU
We know, we know: This one is in University Park, not Dallas, and so it technically shouldn’t even be on this list. But c'mon. Not including a single example of the exquisite parking-garage architecture that dots the Hilltop simply because some old dead guys drew the Dallas-Park Cities boundary at the MKT Railroad tracks (today's Katy Trail) instead of Lovers Lane would be nothing short of criminal. The Binkley Parking Garage is only one example, albeit a fantastic one. Whereas many institutions are content with a modernist design of exposed concrete, SMU went for a classic look, in keeping with the campus' dominant red-brick motif. In doing so, it spared no expense. Note the architectural flourishes: the pair of roundels on the upper floors, the thrillingly unexpected “X” slashing across the railings, the handsome etching of the iconic Dallas Hall. Could there be a more suitable place for storing daddy’s BMW? (Spoiler: No.)
1. AT&T Parking Garage, Downtown
On the front page of its August 3, 1953, edition, below the headlines about the communist blockade of East Berlin, the Dallas Morning News announced a momentous bit of local news: "Opening Set for Garage of 5 Levels." The structure was relatively modest by today's standards, just five stories with a capacity of 305 cars, and it was a couple of decades too late to qualify as Dallas' first parking garage, but the project ushered in the modern parking-garage era in Dallas and was a seminal moment in the career of developer Trammell Crow, who until that point was an obscure warehouse developer. "This is the first parking garage, aside from those built by the banks, to go up since 1936," Crow boasted to the newspaper. It wouldn't, however, be the last. Crow's project was the leading edge of a parking boom that would see the number of downtown parking spaces explode from 17,500 in 1953 to around 70,000 today. Alas, this particular piece of history, which occupied much of the block bounded by Field, Wood, Akard and Jackson streets, has been lost. The good news: It was replaced in the early 1980s by something even grander, a 13-story, 400,000-square-foot behemoth now owned and operated by AT&T.