A brief history of the garage door

Car entrances move from side yard to centerpiece

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What’s the biggest, baddest door in your house? Nope — not the front door. In keeping with America’s automotive obsession, it’s much more likely to be the garage door. And though architects and builders like to pay lip service to the importance of the front door, in practice, it’s often the garage door that’s more conspicuous.

This wasn’t always the case. Before World War II, the front door was the undisputed focal point of any house, while the garage was pointedly hidden away at a back corner of the property. In the booming postwar economy of the 1950s, though, Americans finally attained Herbert Hoover’s pre-Depression promise of "two cars in every garage" — and then some. Our houses haven’t been the same since.

Thanks to the countless Americans who still equate the number of cars they own with their value as human beings, multi-car garages have become status symbols. No wonder garages are the most prominent feature in so many modern tract homes.

As my many prior critiques of our auto-centric society might suggest, I don’t like the notion that doorways for cars are more important than doorways for people. Still, I’m a pragmatist, and since in-your-face garages remain a reality for the present, we may as well try to make them look decent.

Let’s start with a look at the most common types of garage doors.