Round and Rare
In a Neighborhood of Rectangles, One Venerable Garage Stands Out
While Bellingham, WA is flush with vintage Arts and Crafts houses and their well-seasoned counterpart garages, one thing that is not common is a round-fronted garage. This highly unusual example in the above photo happens to be one that came back from neglect. I first noticed it years ago when I was walking down a Cornwall Neighborhood alley, and it was the only one I had ever seen. Being the oddity that it was, it piqued my interest.
Though uncomplicated in appearance, it is certainly a unique structure to marvel at. Half of the structure meets the alley in a 3/4-semicircle shape, while the other square half at the back vanishes behind curved, windowless walls. With no windows visible from the alley, I assume natural light must enter through a window on the other end. The arced door arrangement is split into two sections that roll to each side on a hanging track system. Anchoring the door opening are two exterior support posts that suggest a straight header beam hidden just inside the opening. To help guide the doors smoothly, there appears to be a lower track embedded flush in the concrete threshold, allowing the owner’s “conveyance” of the day to roll out easily. This tongue-and-groove-faced, curvilinear garage door, coupled with the garage’s shingled sides, curved front and sidewalls, flat roof, and very slight keyhole-shaped footprint, certainly sets the building apart from its peers nearby. Its simple and unusual form is beautiful.
I have wondered if this door with its inventive curved tracks may have been some patented design ordered from a catalog long ago, but my research on this has come up empty. Nor have I had any success with finding any photos online of any other old curved-front garages that may still exist. Scarce as they may be, surely there are other examples elsewhere in our nation. There is a chance the door system could have been a custom design made locally or even created by an industrious, forward-thinking homeowner, but I don’t know. Whatever the case, this style did not become popular in Bellingham, as all of the Arts and Crafts homes built in the city — and this neighborhood in particular — have small garages using the standard, rectangular layouts with peaked rooves and various versions of the classic hinged or sliding garage doors to let the Studebakers, Packards, or Model Ts out to play.
In determining its vintage, I use a broad brush. Considering all the clues — its style, its small size, the house and neighborhood’s era, and the weathering of this strange little box — I guess it could have been erected anywhere between 1910 and 1940. Public records of this property state that both the gabled Arts and Crafts home and a garage were built in 1910, but I am unsure if the current garage was remodeled at some later point from a taller, gabled version or if what we see today is the flat-roofed, 1910 original. Built-up roofing techniques for flat rooves were certainly available in 1910, though not as common residentially as they would be applied in the following decades. Whatever its age, I can imagine that, to some people “back in the day,” this may have seemed like the exciting streamlined future of what garages would look and function like. I wish I could find out more about this particular garage, but due to the current high risks of COVID19, getting a personal glimpse just hasn’t been a good idea. Maybe next year.
In the meantime, here it stands in the 21st century, and the era of flying cars that roll out of their suburban, streamlined garages has yet to arrive. Maybe bumpy, cramped alleys cluttered with power lines don’t make good runways.
Designed to house the smaller Tin Lizzies of its time, today, it seems unable to fit even today’s beefy Mini-Cooper with a rafter-scraping roof rack. Like a short-lived dinosaur at the dead-end limb of its family tree, I can’t help but wonder if this low-slung, single-storied endling may someday find itself in peril. As land values rise and homeowners inevitably tear down deteriorating Arts and Crafts era garages to replace them with accessory dwelling units (ADUs) or solid, roomier garages, it is only a matter of time before many of the remaining, diminutive, sagging “car dwellings” vaporize. Being the last of its kind, the extinction of this singular example is certainly plausible.
Despite this possibility, and whether it be months or years more that it salutes the alley and home it serves, it seems to be in good hands. At the time I first noticed this garage decades ago, it was in rough shape. But, I am happy to report, someone has put a degree of care back into the little garage in recent years. By the time I took the picture in the spring of 2020, it was solid and proud.
If you go out for an alley stroll through the Cornwall Neighborhood, you may happen upon this garage of yesteryear’s future still grinning quietly at the world. Should this senior car-shed someday also perish in the wave of alleyway ADU infill, it will be sorely missed. Even after all these years, this is still the only curved-front garage that I have ever seen.